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F√∫tbol Follies

Strange days in the beautiful game

AS ONE of the people responsible for coming up with each week's Sign of the Apocalypse, allow me to say, Thank God for soccer. Soccer is to the SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE what Yogi Berra was to THEY SAID IT—an endless font of rich material that often defies belief. Consider what's happened just this fall: Last week thieves hit the home of Liverpool's Lucas Leiva (right) during a game—making him the seventh Liverpool player in the past 18 months to have his house robbed while the Reds were playing. Two weeks ago a match in Glasgow was abandoned after repeated hard fouls led to a brawl. What's the big deal? The game was a charity affair between politicians and journalists. Chick Young, a 57-year-old BBC soccer pundit, had to be carried from the pitch after a nasty tackle by a Labour member of Parliament. "One guy playing at the back for them was a nut case of the first order, and their language to the ref was scandalous," Young said. "They totally lost the plot." Imagine Nancy Pelosi dusting Dan Rather with some high, tight cheese in a Capitol Hill softball game. And then Dick Cheney dropping an f-bomb on the ump. (Actually that one's not so difficult to picture.)

That came on the heels of the news that Argentina will turn to Diego Maradona (left) as its new coach. The same Diego Maradona who's pals with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. The same Diego Maradona who cheated death in 2004 (cocaine-induced heart attack) and '07 (hepatitis brought on by years of boozing). The same Diego Maradona who had his stomach stapled and dropped 110 pounds but appears to have gained a bit of it back. "I'm very happy for him," said Argentina striker Carlos Tevez. "It's going to be funny."

Maradona was unveiled without incident, but had he done anything short of snorting a line of blow off the lectern he was bound to make a better first impression than Joe Kinnear (below). Last month Kinnear began his first press conference as interim manager of England's Newcastle with the following exchange with a journalist who had been critical of his work.

Kinnear: "Which one is Simon Bird?"

Simon Bird: "Me."

Kinnear: "You're a c---."

Kinnear then proceeded to curse 51 more times in five minutes.

Of course, that kind of outburst wouldn't fly at Croatian side Hajduk Split, not after a group of 19 coworkers bought a stake that made them one of the team's 20 biggest shareholders. The occupation of the new owners: Benedictine nuns.