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Aug 27, 2011

Pope becomes Real's latest signing

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, Pope Benedict XVI becomes Real Madrid's latest signing, Samuel 'highest-paid-footballer-in-the-world' Eto'o doesn't buy the moon, Brazilian striker Diogo slaps a linesman, Turkish side Bursaspor build a giant crocodile stadium and there is an assault on the family jewels in the Danish Superliga.

A match made in heaven

With eye-gouging scourge-of-La-Liga Jose Mourinho seemingly hell-bent on sullying Real Madrid's good name, the club must have thanked the Lord when Pope Benedict XVI descended upon their fair city to offer a chance of absolution and a few positive headlines in the world's media.

Although the German pontiff was actually in Madrid to celebrate World Youth Day (WYD), a Catholic festival bringing together young pilgrims from around the world, that didn't stop Los Blancos from bagging themselves some valuable Mourinho-eschewing time with Benedict XVI.

The club presented the German-born Pope with a commemorative Real Madrid centenary shirt, signed by the entire team and personalised with the number 16 and the name Benedicto. Presumably all they want in return is a little divine intervention the next time all-conquering Barcelona come calling.

However, Bendicto might feel a little hard done by when he discovers that it's not the first time that Real president Florentino Perez has curried favour with a pontiff. In 2002, during Perez's first spell in charge of the club, the Real supremo presented Benedicto's predecessor John Paul II with a signed shirt AND a silver replica of the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Eto'o on top of the world at Anzhi

Samuel Eto'o became the richest man in the known universe, or something like that, when he signed a €30 million three-year contract with Russian gazillionaires Anzhi Makhachkala this week and, according to Off The Ball's very basic and tax-free calculations, he could buy an area the size of Wales on the moon after just two-and-half months.

At least that's at the €13.17-per-acre rate proposed in the email I received from the somebody purporting to sell lunar real estate - including full mineral rights. Although it would take him nearly another week's wages to be able to book a $200,000 (€138,721) ticket on Virgin Galactic to fly into space.

Actually, with the added cost of building some kind of lunar habitat probably running into billions of euros, it's probably not worth the trouble. Eto'o would be better of spending his dosh on something far less interesting... like buying the whole team €29,000 watches from the luxury collection he inspired.

Oh, he already did that for the Cameroon national team. Well, the striker could buy 26 Bugatti Veyrons, 11,494,252 Big Macs or he could sponsor Wigan Athletic and have his name emblazoned on their shirts for the next 33 years.

The belly of the beast

Bursaspor bloke #1: "Our nickname is the Green Crocodiles right? So when we build our new stadium, let's make it look like a massive Green Crocodile." Bursaspor bloke #2: "Brilliant idea. Let's do it."

And so it came to be that Turkish side Bursaspor this week began construction of the magnificent 45,000-seat Timsah Stadium, which when completed will be wrapped in giant crocodile ESPN Video. And if that wasn't enough, the giant beast comes alive at night when the whole thing is illuminated.

Construction of the greatest ground Off the Ball has ever seen will be completed in time for the 2013 season, when Bursaspor will leave behind their rather lass reptilian 25,000-seat Bursa Ataturk Stadium and move into their new state of the art ground.

Bursaspor won the Turkish Super Lig in 2009-10 and signed England international goalkeeper Scott Carson from Premier League side West Bromwich Albion earlier this summer... did we mention they have a crocodile for a stadium?

Diogo sees red and slaps linesman

Brazilian striker Diogo's blubbing apology is unlikely to save him from a lengthy ban after the Montevideo Wanderers striker slapped a linesman after being sent off in a Uruguayan Primera Division match.

The Brazilian started to lose his cool during the match with Danubio when one of the opposition decided to shield the ball at the corner flag. Diogo reacted by kicking out at the player and referee Fernando Cabrera reacted by brandishing the red card.

As a fuming Diogo prepared to trudge off, the unfortunate linesman came within striking distance and received sneaky blow to the face from Diogo ESPN Video, who pops out from behind a team-mate but is caught on camera.

Diogo, who eventually left the pitch in tears, told Uruguayan newspaper El Observador: "I'm very sorry and I was wrong. Even my mother who was in Brazil watched what I did." Under FIFA rules, he could face a life-time ban.


Video of the week

This week's footage is not for the fainthearted. Adeola Runsewe amazingly escapes with just a yellow card after smashing his studs into Martin Svennson's family jewels with such force it's impossible to watch without wincing. To see the kung fu action from the Danish Superliga click here ESPN Video.


More than words...


New kid on the block: Sergio Aguero, Man City's new hero from Argentina, walks past want-away troublemaker Carlos Tevez. ©Getty Images


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