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Mafia pinched Maradona's Golden Ball

Off The Ball never rests in its mission to scratch around the underbelly of professional football to find the most bizarre, humorous and inexplicable stories.

This week, Barcelona begin the Clasico mind games by giving Real Madrid the manita, Diego Maradona's 1986 Golden Ball is 'melted down' by the mafia, Nemanja Vidic almost cries, Luis 'The Owl Kicker' Moreno boots a human and an awful statue of David Beckham is unveiled in Iran.

Maradona's 1986 Golden Ball 'melted down' by mafia

Just when you thought tales of Diego Maradona's wild days at Napoli couldn't get any weirder, a Naples gangster tells Italian prosecutors that the Argentina international's 1986 World Cup Golden Ball, awarded after he was named player of the tournament, was stolen by a mafia clan, melted down and turned into gold bars.

"I tried to get it back but it was not possible, it had been melted," said captured mafia supremo Salvatore Lo Russo. "I did give him back four watches that were stolen... but one of them was not his so he gave it back to me."

The Golden Ball is believed to have gone missing when Maradona, who still owes £28 million in back taxes from his time at Napoli and had his diamond earrings seized by the Italian fraud squad when he returned to the country, allowed it to go on tour in a travelling football museum.

And if that's not strange enough, Lo Russo, who faces drug trafficking charges, also said he sold cocaine to Maradona during his time at Napoli, which came to an end in 1991 when the World Cup winner was banned for 12 months after testing positive for that same substance.

Bucharest boss throttled after wise-crack

Rapid Bucharest manager Marius Sumudica is in danger of overtaking Mario Balotelli as the apple of Off The Ball's eye. The whimsical Romanian featured on this page last week after planting a "tender kiss" on the cheek of a referee that sent him off for a crazy celebration and the misbehaving manager makes a quick return after venting a verbal volley that Gunnery Sergeant Hartman would be proud of.

Following an ill-advised wise-crack about the wife of Bucharest defender Marius Constantin, the centre-back grabbed Sumudica by the throat and attempted to throttle him. The Bucharest boss responded with a withering put down that began: "I'll talk at some point about this character who makes me wretch."

"He won't play here again," he told Romanian newspaper ProSport. "Sure, I made a joke about his wife, but he's a punk, He stinks of beer and smokes. If you go in his room the smoke is so dense you could leave a bike standing upright unsupported. He drinks wine from his minibar and uses gum to clean his breath. You know, I don't care for him."

Rapid chairman Dinu Gheorghe commented that "it was an ugly moment from beginning to end" before docking Sumudica 10% of his salary and Constantin 25% after their run-in on the team bus.

Vidic: I almost cried. Almost.

Manchester United captain Nemanaja Vidic is a not a man to be messed with, as the fans' chants from the terraces suggest: "He comes from Serbia. He'll f***ing murder ya". But the cold-eyed weapon of mass destruction revealed this week that he does actually have a weakness. He has been cursed with a human heart and once he felt an emotion.

"I know I have a reputation for being strong but I am only human," the powerful Serb explained. "I cry during very sad moments."

"There was one film - The Notebook - that really touched me too. I was watching it alone, sitting in the dark, and I got very involved in the story. I almost cried. Almost."

We're not buying Vidic's sob story at Soccernet Towers and reckon the PFA Player of the Year nominee's crocodile tears are just a charm offensive in order to scoop the award.

Barca high five Real Madrid

Real Madrid versus Barcelona is easily the most hyped game on the planet and now we have four Clasicos in 18 days to enjoy/avoid. The two sides meet in the league (April 16), the Copa del Rey final (April 20) and once we are all sick to the back teeth of the Spanish giants there are two more clashes in the semi-finals of the Champions League (April 27 and May 3).

And the mind games have already started. Actually they started before both teams had booked their place in the semis in midweek, with Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes poking fun at Real's poor record against them. "When was the last time they won? In black and white or in colour?" he quipped.

Barcelona's biggest win was the 5-0 hammering of Jose Mourinho's side earlier in the season and in a move that seems an obvious taunt, the Catalan club have plastered adverts, in association with a healthcare company, on city buses featuring five Barca players holding up goading five fingers.

This 'manita', or 'little hand' became the symbol of Barca's five-star performance against Real and to stick it in the faces of a Mourinho side could seriously backfire. Jose's Inter knocked Barca out at of the Champions League at the semi-final stage last year, despite Sergio Busquets' blatant cheating to get Tiago Motta sent off.

Luis 'Owl kicker' Moreno boots humans too

Remember Luis Moreno? The Deportivo Pereira defender who booted an injured owl off the pitch against Atletico Junior, leading to the bird dying of shock 30 hours later? Well the foot-fixated Panamanian has switched his attention from kicking animals to kicking humans.

Moreno received a two-game ban for his assault on the owl, the mascot of opponents Atletico Junior de Barranquilla, last month and was sent off this week for swinging his boot into the ribs of Andres Escobar as the Deportivo Cali player lay prone on the ground.

After the incident, for which he was rightly shown the red card, Moreno protested his innocence and claimed he was attempting to play the ball. However, the TV replays seemed to show him lining up his boot on the player and not the ball.

The Colombian FA are looking into the incident and could add a violent conduct charge to the automatic two-match suspension that accompanies his red card.

Video of the week

Mansfield Town's Tyrone Thompson scores a spectacular half-volley own goal in a 4-0 defeat to Hayes & Yeading at the weekend. Click here to see Thompson's sensational own goal

More than words...

Bas Savage of Dagenham and Redbridge sports his new Spiderman haircut. ©Getty Images

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