An Italian footballer’s career took off in the last seconds before he retired – when masked men swooped from a helicopter to ‘kidnap’ him.
Ignazio Barbagallo has now been rotared out of the plans for his tiny Sicilian team – but his send-off eclipsed the farewells given to the world’s best players.
Barbagallo, well-known locally as a prankster, faked his own kidnapping, causing huge dust clouds as the game was stopped and he was whisked off in a chopper.
But his Sicily League third-tier side Citta Di Viagrande will hope there are no ransom demands – as the stunt has cost them a fine and a playing ban until June.
Ditching the traditional, late-substitution route into retirement, Barbagallo instead gathered on the sidelines with his Viagrande team-mates and their rivals from Nebrodi as a helicopter whirled noisily down onto the centre circle.
The players had to cover their eyes from the dust-storm as the large chopper landed.
Barbagallo held his hands up in surrender as two men in balaclavas hauled him off and into the helicopter, which soared off straight away.
The extravagant jape was then completed by a Viagrande team-mate holding up a placard saying “SERVICIO ELIMINAZIONE GIOCATORI FINITI” – meaning “Elimination for finished players”.
But local football chiefs found it no laughing matter.
Fox Sports Italia say Viagrande were penalised 200 Euros – about £172.
And they were also suspended from playing until the end of May.
Viagrande were punished for “causing the interruption of the game by pre-ordering and allowing the landing of a helicopter on the pitch compromising the safety of those present”.