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Nov 5, 2011

The end is nigh

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, Mario Balotelli is to be burnt on a bonfire, a bum-grope goal celebration whips up a storm in Iran, Mexican side Jaguares signal the end of life as we know it, Celtic midfielder Kris Commons pranks the press and Lionel Messi is nominated for the annual Lionel Messi award.

Jaguares replace shirt names with Twitter handles

If, like Off The Ball, you are concerned at the way social media has replaced something once known as 'talking' as life's prime mode of communication and live in fear that the future will be a world where humans live in isolation and interact through surrogate robots - as depicted in the excellent film of the same name - then your overactive imagination will have balked at this week's news that a Mexican football club has replaced players' names on the back of their shirts with their respective Twitter handles.

Although other football club's have already dabbled in Twitter-related tomfoolery - Valencia replaced their shirt sponsor's name with the club's @valenciacf account last month - Mexican First Division side Jaguares de Chiapas are the first to place their presumably hoverboot-hankering feet on the slippery slope to Doomsville and strip players of traditional and old fashioned indulgences such as names.

"Conscious of the age we live in, where we can all stay in touch through the internet no matter how distant, Jaguar launched a campaign and carried out various activities linked to Twitter," the club, which was only founded nine years ago, explained in a statement. "In football as in life, 140 characters are enough to decide which side you're on."

No! It really isn't. The Prisoner summed it up best when he said: "I am not a number (or in this case a twitter handle), I am a free man." and by the way, be sure to follow me at @ESPNsoccernetFC.

And the Lionel Messi award goes to...

In more re-assuring news, Lionel Messi has been shortlisted for this season's Lionel Messi Player of the Year Award - otherwise known as the FIFA Ballon d'Or - along with 22 other nominees who aren't Lionel Messi and have no chance of scooping Lionel Messi's annual award.

Lionel Messi will be handed the Lionel Messi gong on January 9, 2012, in the most predictable sporting moment since Pakistan cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir bowled a series of no-balls against England at Lords last summer (readers from non-cricket playing nations may want to Google 'spot-fixing').

The 22 losers who aren't Barcelona and Argentina star Lionel Messi are: Eric Abidal (Barcelona, France), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City, Argentina), Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France), Iker Casillas (Real Madrid, Spain), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid, Portugal), Daniel Alves (Barcelona, Brazil), Samuel Eto'o (Anzhi Makhachkala, Cameroon), Cesc Fabregas (Barcelona, Spain), Diego Forlan (Inter Milan, Uruguay), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona, Spain), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich, Germany), Nani (Manchester United, Portugal), Neymar (Santos, Brazil), Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid, Germany), Gerard Pique (Barcelona, Spain), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United, England), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich, Germany), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan, Netherlands), Luis Suarez (Liverpool, Uruguay), David Villa (Barcelona, Spain), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid, Spain) and Xavi (Barcelona, Spain).

On the official Lionel Messi Ballon d'Or website FIFA pose the question: Who's your favourite among the 23? Hmm, we're not sure who to go with but reckon Lionel Messi has a fair chance to become only the second player in history to win a consecutive treble after Michel Platini.

Kris Commons turns up in neck brace after 'bust-up'

Given that out-of-favour midfielder Kris Commons is supposed to be furious with Celtic manager Neil Lennon, the Scotland international appeared to be in particularly good humour this week when he dreamed up an excellent hoax to prank the press.

Following (disappointingly false) rumours that he had been involved in a heated training-ground scuffle with Lennon, which ended when the Hoops boss landed a Glasgow Kiss, Commons turned up to training bedecked in bandages, a neck brace and with a plaster across his supposedly broken nose.

But when the hobbling Hoops star, who looked like he had been hit by a bus, was greeted by the laughter of his team-mates it became obvious the joke was on the assembled photographers.

The Parkhead prankster certainly has cause to moan, having started only four SPL games this season, but used a touch of ingenuity to dispel the latest bust-up rumours. Give that man game.

Bum grope whips up a storm in Iran

It's not unusual to be loved by any one of your team-mates after smashing in a net-buster on the footie pitch; hugs, kisses and the occasional pat on the bum are all acceptable forms of appreciation. Although not in Iran, where two players face 74 lashes for partaking in what the nation's conservative rulers have deemed "immoral acts" during a goal celebration.

Persepolis pair Sheys Rezaei and Mohammad Nosrati have been suspended indefinitely by the Football Federation of Iran (FFIRI) and fined almost £25,000 each for grabbing their team-mates' backsides and hugging too intimately during the Iranian club's televised 3-2 win over Damash Gilan in the Persian Gulf Cup. And things could get even worse for the butt-touching duo.

"[It is] a violation of public chastity based on current Iranian social values", Judge Valiollah Hosseni told the Fars News Agency. "It is even worse to do these actions before the eyes of thousands of spectators and TV cameras. The punishment of this crime is up to two months of prison and 74 lashes."

Ultra-conservative Iran has made steps to eradicate bad language and any acts of inappropriate behaviour by both players and spectators and the FFIRI could use the pair as an example, with the lashes to be carried out on the field where the incident occurred.

Off The Ball can only imagine the consequences if the pair had gone down the same route as Sevilla's Francisco Gallardo, who's bizarre goal celebration against Valladolid in November 2001 included bending down and biting team-mate Jose Antonio Reyes' genitals (20 secs).

Video of the week

This could the most ridiculous red card decision ever as Dnipro's Samuel Inkoom is shown a second yellow card for taking his shirt off as he leaves the pitch to be substituted. The unlucky Ghanaian international sees his number on the fourth official's board and trots towards the sidelines to be replaced to by team-mate Evgeniy Shakhov. Only for the jobsworth referee to brandish the red card. To see the ridiculous red card, click here .

More than words...

Ukriane's newest stadium in Lviv is given a grand opening ahead of Euro 2012, when it will host a number of international matches.

©Getty Images

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