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May 20, 2011

Diego's dirhams, Wenger is watching

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, 'Crazy' Jesus Corona headbutts the opposition manager, Arsenal spy on their players with a GPS tracking system, Diego Maradona is in it for the money at Al Wasl, daring Manchester United fans unveil a '19 times' banner at Anfield and the most ingenious set-piece routine of the season.

Le voyeur's all-seeing eye

Jose Mourinho once famously called Arsene Wenger a 'voyeur' and it would appear that the Arsenal boss IS always watching, at least in terms of his players' movements.

Gunners striker Robin van Persie revealed this week that the club's staff used the GPS tracking systems players wear to monitor their performance, to also check up on whether a team-mate was telling the truth when he said he had to go home to pick up something.

"We had a funny situation at Arsenal recently when one of the players said he had to go home to pick something up - but forgot he still had the GPS around him," Van Persie explained.

"So one of the physios said 'Ok, you go home' and these guys went straight on to the computer and tracked him down. They could actually see he really did go home and came straight back, so he wasn't lying. And now we don't have a private life!"

United fans unveil '19 times' banner at Anfield

It was sad day for Manchester United fans when they had to take down the famous "35 years" banner after noisy neighbours City finally ended their trophy drought, but some bold supporters quickly redressed the balance on the mock-o-meter with a daring raid on Anfield that left even manager Sir Alex Fergsuon in awe.

Having clinched a landmark 19th title, finally eclipsing Liverpool's total of 18, some of United's supporters pulled off a Mission Impossible-style stunt, complete with getaway cars, to unfurl a banner emblazoned "MUFC 19 TIMES" on the upper tier at Anfield ahead of the Reds game against Tottenham on Sunday.

The perpetrator unfurled the banner during a chorus of You'll Never Walk Alone and fled to his getaway car waiting outside the ground while fellow conspirators in the adjoining stand got photographic evidence.

Speaking at United's end-of-season awards gala, Ferguson said: "I wish I had taken that banner to Liverpool on Sunday. I bet there were 76,000 fans wishing they had thought of that."

'Crazy' Corona headbutts manager

It's a familiar routine all over the world: play the game, have a massive brawl during the game, lose the game and headbutt the manager. Or is it just in the Mexican Clausura semi-finals? Because that's what happened during Cruz Azul's defeat to Morelia this week.

With Morelia leading 3-0 in the 89th minute (3-2 on aggregate), one of their fans ran onto the pitch, made a remark to Cruz Azul captain Gerardo Torrado and was attacked by a number of the visiting team's players, sparking a free-for-all.

During the mass melee, the face of Morelia coach Sergio Martin became closely acquainted with the forehead of Cruz Azul goalkeeper Jesus Corona in a vicious headbutting incident that has resulted in the latter's name being mercilessly attached to the pre-fix 'Crazy'.

Although the referee, who sent off three players once things had calmed down a little, missed the incident the TV cameras didn't and the keeper was handed a six-match ban and dropped from the national team. "It's lamentable what happened," 'Crazy' Corona said, although he wasn't referring to the headbutt. "I make a little mistake and I'm out of the national team."

Maradona in it for the dirhams at Al Wasl

Putting aside all that unfortunate "Hand of God" business, a 15-month ban for failing a drug test for cocaine and the massive tax bill he still owes the Italian authorities, Diego Maradona is an honest chap.

The Argentina legend, who won the World Cup for his country in 1986 and guided them to the 2010 version as a manager, signed a two-year deal to become the new coach at Dubai team Al Wasl this week and happily admitted he had done it for the money.

"It's the chance to be in a country where perhaps there aren't many stars, but there's a squad to command and good money," Maradona told the TyC sports channel.

Al Wasl chairman Marwan Bin Bayat is under no illusions either: "The value of the contract is worthy of the stature and reputation of the great legend." And with all this straight-talking going on maybe someone should tell them the marriage is almost certain to end in a disaster.

East London comedy club

"Enjoy an unforgettable night with the stars in the company of the West Ham United first team - it promises to be a night full of entertainment" read the invite to their gala dinner, and for once, the Hammers delivered.

What with the police being called to calm things down after an evening of handbags, smashing vases and choice insults, anybody who was at the event - apart from maybe poor old Demba Ba, who was temporarily made the scapegoat - will certainly remember the night.

It was a fitting way to end the season for a club whose board undermined the manager by trying to replace him with Martin O'Neill in December and then claimed they had given Avram Grant everything he needed to keep the club in the Premier League - except their backing of course.

The east enders have made for a great soap opera this year. Come back soon Hammers. We'll miss you.


Video of the week

Yes it's on an American Football pitch and no we haven't heard of Bryant or Conway either, but what a fantastic set-piece routine! Is it fiendishly clever or too low-down and dirty to have any place in football? To watch the ingenious free kick, click here .


More than words...


Manchester City unveil their own version of Manchester United's mocking trophy-drought ticker after winning the FA Cup. ©Getty Images


Around the web

• Wayne Rooney shaves '19' onto his chest hair to celebrate title

• Avram Grant given cheeky message from rival Millwall fans

• Liverpool's Chris Mavinga inflicts horrific head injury

• Polish police put hooligans' photos on Internet

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