Though Saturday’s soccer highlights included a Cesc “Cooking With” Fabregas wonder strike in Arsenal’s 3-1 win at Tottenham, Celtic leapfrogging Rangers at the top of the SPL, Siena coming within moments of an upset victory over AC Milan, and QPR earning their first point in over a month (albeit via a draw with Leicester City), I feel pretty confident in claiming there’s no match this weekend that will beat the following story for sheer entertainment value. From the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor :

Manchester City midfielder Stephen reland issued an apology last night after admitting he had made up a reason to be excused from the Republic of Ireland’s 1-0 defeat in the Czech Republic on Wednesday, in order to visit his “lonely” girlfriend in Cork. He also asked Eriksson, his club manager, for his compassionate leave to be extended to this weekend, indicating he would not be able to play against Aston Villa tomorrow because he was still grieving and had to help with funeral arrangements.

When journalists discovered earlier this week that Ireland’s maternal grandmother, Patricia Tallon, was alive and well – and shocked to read about her death in the newspapers – Ireland changed his story to say his paternal grandmother, Brenda Kitchener, had died. She, in turn, read about her own death and at least one newspaper was reportedly threatened with legal action by relatives on Thursday. Ireland is then understood to have changed his story again, this time claiming that one of his grandfathers was divorced and that it was his elderly partner who had died. That was also exposed as a lie.

“I decided at that stage that I must tell the truth and admit I had told lies,” Ireland said. “I realise now that it was a massive mistake to say my grandmothers had died and I deeply regret it. It was wrong and I sincerely apologise as I have caused a lot of problems for many people. I would like to apologise to my grandmothers and all my family. I have learnt a valuable lesson from this mess and hope those I have hurt will forgive me.”

Ireland was described by one associate last night as “living in a world of lies”. His actions could prompt costly repercussions, with Eriksson considering dropping him and the Republic’s manager, Steve Staunton, livid as he reflects on a defeat that has all but ended his side’s hopes of qualification for the 2008 European Championship.

The player said his girlfriend had miscarried and that “caused us to panic” – but the Football Association of Ireland is bewildered why he did not explain this at the time, when that alone would have merited compassionate leave.