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Friday, December 24, 2010
And the award goes to...

Dominic Raynor

With 2010 drawing to a close it's once again time to dish out a variety of yearly awards to all and sundry and Off The Ball has finally bagged an invitation to the annual party. Unfortunately, a few too many eggnogs were quaffed to celebrate the inaugural occasion and so the usual suspects, such as Lionel Messi and his fellow Barcelona do-gooders, have been entirely overlooked. Instead, the prestigious Off The Ball Gongs have been handed out to random purveyors of the bizarre. So prepare to embrace an alternative look at the past 12 months as we crack on with the ceremony... GRUDGE OF THE YEAR - Tim Wiese Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi came a close second in this category after prolonging their World Cup spat into a fourth year. The unforgiving former France skipper said he would still "rather die" than apologise for headbutting Materazzi, who responded to the taunts by mockingly thanking the red-carded Frenchman for helping Italy win the trophy. But the first Off The Ball Gong of 2010 goes to Werder Bremen goalkeeper Tim Wiese, who finally cracked under continued sniping from former Germany international and outspoken TV pundit Jens Lehmann. Lehmann, who rarely has a good word to say about his fellow 'keepers, criticised Wiese following a 2-2 Champions League draw against Spurs in September, claiming he could have saved the opening goal if his positioning had been better. Wiese responded to Lehmann's mild admonishment by saying: "He should go on the Muppet Show. That man should be on a couch. Maybe someone would be able to help him there. Commit him - best to an asylum." At first glance this may seem like something of an overreaction, but the duo have previous. Wiese has always claimed Lehmann would not shake his hand before matches and ahead of the World Cup the former Germany international backed Manuel Neuer and Rene Adler for Die Mannschaft's No.1 Jersey, ahead of Wiese. FANATIC OF THE YEAR - Felipe Alvarez Although there are probably more fitting ways to pay tribute to Colombia international Andres Escobar, who was shot dead shortly after the 1994 World Cup, Felipe Alvarez's decision to have his idol's shirt and number permanently and agonisingly tattooed on his torso is exactly the type of flawed reasoning that requires recognition with an Off The Ball Gong. Escobar was gunned down by a man connected with Colombian gambling syndicates after he scored an own goal against USA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, which reportedly caused huge losses to several powerful drug lords, and every year tributes are paid to the defender by his club Atletico Nacional. But El Verde y Blanco fanatic Alvarez, who was just nine years old when Escobar was murdered, took things a step too far for 2010's tributes when he had the club's green-striped shirt, complete with Escobar's No. 2, painfully tattooed on his chest ESPN Video, back and arms. The 25-year-old then unveiled his tribute on the pitch at Nacional's Estadio Atanasio Girardot Medellin under a parasol to protect his tender torso from the Colombian sun. An honourable mention must also go to the unnamed Spanish fan who missed his own wedding to go to CD Eldense's clash with FC Torrevieja in the fourth tier of the league ladder, only to be tracked down by his wife-to-be, in full wedding regalia, and dragged off to church. INNOVATION OF THE YEAR - St Pauli hot dog train Once Japan's proposal to show all matches at the 2022 World Cup in 3D and then beam them holographically onto 400 pitches around the world was kyboshed by FIFA's ridiculous decision to award the tournament to Qatar, there was only one winner of this category. The decision by newly-promoted Bundesliga club FC St Pauli to install a model railway to deliver freshly cooked hot dogs directly to fans' seats at their Millerntor-Stadion was, quite simply, a stroke of genius. In a bid to tempt more people through the turnstiles, the German club stationed a network of trains to haul their piping-hot freight from the club's kitchens to supporters ... every five minutes. Okay, so it's only in the VIP section, but those lucky enough to bag a golden ticket are also treated to an individual beer pump to help wash down those delicious porkers and a flatscreen TV to watch replays of key moments from the live action. Designer Mathias Mueller-Using described his brainchild as "a tribute to the club we love and its very special fans". Brat's certainly not the wurst idea in the world. MATCH OF THE YEAR - Evo Morales v Bolivia Barcelona's 5-0 drubbing of arch-rivals Real Madrid in El Clasico? Pah! That's not a match. But the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, kneeing a political rival in the family jewels during a so-called friendly at the national stadium in La Paz? That's a match. And that is exactly what happened when Morales took exception to being hacked down. While still nursing his bruised gonads, political rival Daniel Gustavo Cartagena was then sent off, for the original foul, and threatened with arrest, presumably for attacking the country's leader with his testicles. Morales, who was captaining a side playing against a team led by the mayor of La Paz, was caught on video running up to Cartagena and kneeing him in the groin ESPN Video, but escaped any punishment. After the match, which ended in a 4-4 draw and with only 18 players on the pitch, Mayor Revilla said: "The president told us he has never lost a match". We can see why. OVERREACTION OF THE YEAR - Donaldo Morales There were plenty of contenders for this much sought after award: Santos goalkeeper Felipe staked a claim when he reacted to a taunt of "lettuce hands" by baring his chest and trading insults - such as "what I spend on food for my dog is what you make in a month" - with the club's fans during a live video chat. And Sunday League footballer Joseph Rimmer came close after he reacted to being sent off by jumping in his 4x4 and driving onto the pitch to chase down the referee. But there was one clear winner, and that's gun-toting Honduran goalkeeper Donaldo Morales, who took exception to an unflattering article by Diez journalist Saul Carranza. As retribution for the negative reports, Morales went after Carranza while he was interviewing Motagua team-mate Jorge Claros following practice at the Estadio Nacional in Tegucigalpa. Morales appeared with an air gun and started to take pot shots at Carranza, hitting him twice and winging another journalist with a wayward shot. Momentarily inspired by Diego Maradona's similar riposte to journalists in 1994, when he injured four people with an air rifle outside his Buenos Aires country home, Morales later came to his senses and asked Carranza to forgive him, but the reporter refused. Motagua president Pedro Atala may have promised to dish out some "severe punishment" but Morales, who has made 156 appearances for the Honduran team to date, can console himself with our award. BONKERS DECISION OF THE YEAR AWARD - Southampton This gong goes to League One side Southampton, whose decision back in August to ban national and local newspaper photographers from their stadium backfired spectacularly when the UK's biggest selling newspaper rounded on the club, and opening-day opponents Plymouth quite literally turned the game into a comic-book caper. The Sun kicked-off the backlash by running the most one-sided match report in history, refusing to mention the home team at all, even running with the headline: "Opposition 0-1 Plymouth". The Plymouth Herald also poked fun at the club by hiring a cartoonist to capture the Pilgrims' winning goal, Roy of the Rovers style, after refusing to buy the club's "official" images from a single accredited agency. Artist Chris Robinson, a historian and lifelong Plymouth fan, was asked by Herald editor Bill Martin to provide the sketches and commented: "It was an interesting escapade." GIBBERISH OF THE YEAR AWARD - Zlatan Ibrahimovic's agent This was a tough category to judge with so many people in football spouting so much drivel. Steven Gerrard's claim that Joe Cole is better than Lionel Messi - "Messi can do some amazing things, but anything he can do Joe can do as well, if not better" - would have been a worthy winner but then Zlatan Ibrahimovic's agent decided to open his mouth. After watching Ibrahimovic's match-winning performance in the Milan derby, Camp Nou legend Johan Cruyff handed the on-loan Barcelona flop a back-handed compliment that prompted his agent, Mino Raiola, to launch into a marvellously withering tirade. Cruyff, who remains a Barca icon after coaching and playing for the Catalan club, simply claimed that the Milan striker was "better suited to Italian football", but that was too much for the man who brokered Ibrahimovic's eye-wateringly expensive transfer to Spain. "Cruyff can go to hell! He is a nobody," Raiola told Swedish newspaper Expressen. "He is becoming old and didn't have the courage to continue his management career, as he doesn't know how to train a modern club. "Why didn't Cruyff tell Zlatan that he wasn't suited to Spanish football before Barcelona signed him? I think Cruyff should be in a mental asylum with Guardiola, so they can sit there quietly and play cards together. They would be doing Barcelona a great favour." BALOTELLI AWARD FOR THE INCREDIBLY MISGUIDED - Ancash You have to admire the dedication if not the methods of the staff at Peruvian side Sport Ancash, who reportedly handed energy drinks spiked with tranquilisers to the players of second division side Ascovinchos during their promotion-deciding clash back in October. Presumably, the plan was to make their local rivals groggy and easy to beat, but unfortunately once the Ascovinchos players had guzzled drinks handed to them by their opponents during a break in play, they started to drop like flies ESPN Video - with four players taken to hospital. The sleepy side eventually lost 3-0 to Ancash but furious Ascovinchos manager Americo Ibanez was not a happy man. "My boys say Ancash medical staff gave them a liquid which made them feel dizzy and faint," Ibanez said. "When they returned the bottles so the other team drank from them as well, someone snatched them out of their hands. We want the authorities to investigate this and prove where this substance came from. We're intending to launch a formal complaint." Despite the fact the hospitalised players had traces of tranquiliser in their blood, Ancash president Pepe Mallqui put it all down to a dodgy pre-match meal. "They ate barbecued chicken with spices and ended up taking indigestion tablets afterwards. I'm sure these four men fainted because of that and the physical effort they put in." Ancash are clear and deserving winners of Off the Ball's inaugural Balotelli Award for the Incredibly Misguided. VIDEO OF THE YEAR - Jessica Kastrop At first this appeared to be the most difficult category to judge, with a host of contenders, but in the end it came down to pure slapstick comedy value. After all, one can never really grow tired of seeing unsuspecting German reporter Jessica Kastrop hit on the back of the head by Khalid Boulahrouz's wayward shot. To see Boulahrouz kick a ball at a woman's head click here ESPN Video. IMAGE OF THE YEAR - Tevez and Ferdinand

Carlos Tevez gives Rio Ferdinand a thorough examination in the Manchester derby. ©Getty Images

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