Gibbo scores free meal, team Hagi
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, Darron Gibson's Everton winner nets him a free meal at Rio Ferdinand's restaurant, Viitorul Constanta owner Gheorghe Hagi puts his own face on the club's kit, Arsenal fans plan a black bin-bag protest, the new Indian football league auction valued Hernan Crespo the highest and Robbie Fowler least and some Oscar-worthy playacting at the African Nations Cup.
Gibbo scores a free meal at Rio's restaurant
When former Manchester United midfielder Darren Gibson scored for Everton against Manchester City in midweek he didn't just secure a great victory for his new club and endear himself to the fans. Hell no! He also bagged himself a free meal at Rio Ferdinand's Italian restaurant Rosso.
Gibbo's goal condemned the Premier League leaders to a 1-0 loss and allowed his old colleagues at United, who subsequently beat Stoke 2-0 at Old Trafford, to draw level on points with their bitter-rivals in the race for the title.
The Republic of Ireland international's former team-mates took to twitter to express their thanks, with Wayne Rooney posting: "Yeeeeesssssss Gibbo. Love u kid." And Ferdinand tweeting: "Just organising a FREE meal at my restaurant for Darron Gibson!"
Meanwhile, Gibson's old boss Sir Alex Ferguson joked that selling the midfielder, who made 60 appearances for the Red Devils, to Everton at a cut-price fee was "all part of the plan" to claim a 20th top-flight title for United.
Sold! Crespo, to the man from India
While the rest of the world waited for the Sisyphean tedium of the transfer window to finally end, the Indian football league hosted its inaugural player auction this week and, from a list that read like a late 90s fantasy league team, Hernan Crespo emerged as the hottest property.
The 36-year-old Argentinian was snapped up by the Barasat franchise of Premier League Soccer (PLS) - which has been modelled on cricket's highly successful Indian Premier League Twenty20 tournament - as the club's "icon" player for £536,000.
Meanwhile, Italy's 2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro went to Siliguri for £530,000, Howrah shelled out £511,000 on Robert Pires, Nigerian playmaker Jay-Jay Okocha went to Durgapur for £351,000 and former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler was the cheapest of the lot as Kolkata snapped him up for just £338,000.
In move that could teach UEFA a few things about financial fairplay, each club had a salary cap of £1.58 million to recruit the required staff - including an "icon" player, two overseas footballers and a coach - from a specified pool of talent.
So while the rest of us were wrestling with the umpteenth story about Carlos Tevezzzzzzzzzz throughout the month of January, fresh-faced upstart the PLS was metaphorically down the pub outbidding his mates for his favourite (aging) star. Hmmm.... only one organisation got it right.
Viitorul Constanta owner Hagi puts own face on club kit
Gheorghe Hagi, the Maradona of the Carpathians, the Black Sea Bomber, La Commandante, is a legend in Romania, adored by all. And the thrice-nicknamed Barcelona and Real Madrid star is also adored, it seems, by Gheorghe Hagi.
As the owner of Romanian Liga II side Viitorul Constanta, and unofficial ruler of the nation, Hagi can pretty much do what he wants and has decreed that his very own team shall wear shirts adorned with the over-sized smiling face of their glorious leader - Gheorghe Hagi.
According to the fellas over at Who Ate All The Pies, the Constanta chief wanted a unique, custom strip for his players to wear and approached Puma to create something. What came back was a pale blue shirt with Hagi's face emblazoned across the front, with the graphic made up of binary code, for some bizarre reason.
Now while it might all be a bit narcissistic and unfathomable for some people's taste, the kit certainly looks the business and Off The Ball wants one... preferably a free one if you're reading this Puma.
Gunners trash talk
Arsenal's fans intend to send the club's hierarchy a clear message about which direction they thing the club is heading with a bizarre black bin-bag protest this weekend.
The disgruntled fans believe the club's recent results and transfer policy are a load of rubbish and, according to the Daily Mirror, one supporters' group is urging their fellow Gooners to put black bin liners over empty red seats at the Emirates during Saturday's match against Blackburn to highlight falling attendances.
Manager Arsene Wenger has seen his side slip to seventh in the table the bin-bag protesters have also called for chants of "we want our money back" after the club refused to make any big money signings in January.
Kelvin Meadows, of the Where Has Our Arsenal Gone and Black Scarf Movement, insisted that their group would always support the team and Wenger, but questioned the direction of the club.
Meadows said: "What was the point in 6% rises last summer if the club do not want to spend? ... If Robin van Persie signs [a new contract], then great. But I don't know many people who would blame him if he did go in the summer because is the club going to buy players to rebuild the team again?"
Video of the week
Off the Ball is certainly no fan of play-acting and simulation - or cheating to use the proper term - but when the conman's efforts are as hammy and second-rate as Equatorial Guinea's Narcisse Ekanga are then you can't help but laugh. During his side's 2-1 win over Senegal at the African Nation's Cup, Ekanga hit the deck following a tackle and after the officials waved play on, he decided to audition for an Oscar. To see Narcisse Ekanga's brilliant display of over-acting, click here .
More than words...
Newcastle's training session gets all dark and moody at the Little Benton Training Centre
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