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Why footballers score so many own goals. . .

They are derided as over-paid, spoilt and self-obsessed. But the most striking aspect of Premiership footballers is not the amounts paid for their silky skills on the pitch but their seemingly endless stupidity off it.

The latest to be embroiled in a scandal waiting to happen, however, is not the usual 20-something twit, but a mature and seasoned professional who remains unnamed for legal reasons.

The top star is now desperately hiding behind a court gagging order to maintain his anonymity, after cheating on his wife with former Big Brother contestant Imogen Thomas.

While this seemingly astute player wonders how he ever thought he could have kept his fling under wraps, the publicity hungry Thomas sits on morning television sofas sobbing one minute and poses in her bikini for lads' mags the next.

This cautionary tale, which will no doubt go unheeded, once again highlights how Premiership stars are definitely the cream of footballing talent -- rich and thick.

From Wayne Rooney to Peter Crouch, a host of stars have been caught playing offside. But while their foolish 'sexploits' seem at best highly naive, there is far more damning evidence suggesting footballers are far from the brightest stars in the sky.

Jermaine Pennant, who recently declared he wants to play for Ireland, was contacted in January by his former club Real Zaragoza after they discovered his abandoned Porsche had been parked at a local railway station for five months. Apparently, the soccer star confessed he had simply forgotten he owned the €115,000 super car.

But if Giovanni Trapattoni decides to give Pennant a run, he can always draw on his experience of dealing with brainiac Stephen Ireland. He was branded "stupid" by his then-manager Sven Goran Eriksson after the former Man City midfielder pretended his grandmother had died in order to get out of international duty.

When his maternal grandmother was found to be alive, Ireland then said it was his paternal grandmother who had died. His lie was exposed when she miraculously materialised.

"Their egos have been allowed to run riot," says RTE's George Hamilton. "There is no one that says 'Stop!' This is a shame because the game is still the theatre of the workingman. But unfortunately those who are on the stage now are completely divorced from the realities of the world."

The proof seems as endless as it is irrefutable. Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand missed a drug test, supposedly because he forgot about it and went shopping. Chelsea's John Terry broke a security guard's leg after running over him last year. Ashley Cole went one better and accidentally shot and wounded a work-placement student with an air gun at the club's training ground a few months ago.

However, it is Manchester City's Mario Balotelli, who arrived from Italy last year, who has quickly become the idiot's idiot of footballing fools.

A few months after being caught and questioned by police for trespassing in a woman's prison with his brother while home in Italy, the star was caught throwing darts out a window at youth players at the club's training ground.

When Balotelli wrote off his sports car in Manchester last year, police officers arriving on the scene discovered £5,000 in cash hanging out of his back pocket. Asked why he was carrying such a sum, he shrugged and reportedly said: "Because I am rich."

Despite his bravado, many felt a tad sorry for Balotelli when he became a YouTube sensation after millions watched him struggling to pull on a training bib until he had to have a member of the coaching staff do it for him. Bless.

In 2008, Nathan Dyer, a £8,000-a-week Southampton player, was caught joking as he looted handbags of minimum-wage barmaids. A year earlier, Liverpool's Glen Johnson was spotted by B&Q security putting a toilet seat into a box with a cheaper price tag on it and hiding a set of taps underneath a sink at the check-out to avoid paying for them. The police fined him £80.

"There are some bad lads out there but I don't think they are any more stupid than in my time as a player," says legend John Giles. "With all people, money is inclined to corrupt."

Indeed, footballers have been men misbehaving for decades.

In the 90s, the Welsh wizard Mickey Thomas became more notorious for his off-field antics despite a career that saw him play for Manchester United. Thomas was jailed after being snared handing out dodgy £10 and £20 notes to Wrexham trainees.

Arsenal and England international Peter Storey was nabbed for running a brothel at the end of the 70s, before serving three years for his involvement in a gold coin counterfeit ring.

Even in the seemingly more innocent days of the 60s, Peter Swan was caught in perhaps British football's most infamous match-fixing scandal. His stupidity cost him a role in England's 1966 World Cup squad.

"Unfortunately success breeds failure in people," says Tony Cascarino, who confessed to infidelities in his autobiography. "It is easy to point the finger. We tend to think footballers are just a one-off breed but they are not."

So, should we feel sorry for the Man United footballer who thought he needed a passport to get into Wales?

Maybe. But the problem when it comes to football stars, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell, seems to be "the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt".

Indo Review