Paper links Liverpool to player who doesn't exist

Liverpool Football Club wanted to sign Didier Baptiste, left back for AS Monaco and the French under-21 national side, in a £3.5m move, it was reported this week.

Liverpool Football Club wanted to sign Didier Baptiste, left back for AS Monaco and the French under-21 national side, in a £3.5m move, it was reported this week.

The sporting world was shocked. And so it might be. The fancied Baptiste does not exist - he is a star of football fantasy. The transfer "scoop" is an embarrassing own goal for The News of the World, which broke the story in its "Soccer Secrets" column on Sunday, only to find out that Baptiste is in fact a character on Dream Team, a football-based soap show on Sky One.

He is a left back, to be sure, and French, too, but he is more likely to be found in the colours of Harchester Rovers - the fictional club at the centre of the programme.

Undeterred, The Times carried the story yesterday, having apparently picked it up from Liverpool's official Clubcall line, which had also put it out to its paying customers.

The gaffe is all the more embarrassing because the two newspapers and the TV station are all parts of Rupert Murdoch's media empire in Britain.

"Oops!" was the response from Keith Blackmore, sports editor of The Times, yesterday.

At The News of the World the finger of blame was pointed at Hayters, a news agency that specialises in providing sports stories to the national papers and began the Baptiste rumours. Executives there were investigating how such a thing could have happened yesterday.

At least part of the blame must lie with Baptiste himself, played by Tom Redhill, who made his first appearance on last Thursday's edition of the show. He revealed that he would "sign for an English club who have a French manager".

Liverpool, managed by Gerard Houllier, obviously fitted the bill, and the deal was duly announced. Even then The News of the World covered its back, saying that Houllier faced stiff competition from Arsenal's Arsÿne Wenger - the Premiership's other French manager.

Some at the newspaper do not seem to have fully appreciated the joke, or are intent on taking it further. "We think Didier Baptiste would be an ideal addition to Liverpool's back four," said Mike Dunn, the sports editor, yesterday. "He's a really attractive player, and you will be seeing a lot more of him in The News of the World."

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