Pandora: Misbehave, my son, and you'll be off to Moldova

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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson was said to have "read the riot act" at his side after their drunken Christmas party ended with one junior Manchester United player being accused of rape.

Pretty soon, however, it will be more than just the fiery Scotsman's customary "hairdryer treatment" misbehaving players will have to deal with.

Pandora understands the club are currently in talks with a Moldovan football side called Eikomena who are setting up a football academy for talented footballers from Ghana.

The plans are that particularly troublesome youth players coming through the ranks at Manchester United will be dispatched to Moldova, in Eastern Europe, to help out and train with the Ghanaians.

"The club are taking Ghanaian players and basically giving them a shop window for bigger clubs around Europe," I'm told. "They're eager for Man United to be involved as obviously it's the one club most young footballers really aspire to. And if it keeps their miscreants in line, so much the better."

The project is the brainchild of Dr Peter Slowe, a director of Projects Abroad, a company which specialises in organising overseas volunteer work.

A spokesman for Mr Slowe refused to elaborate on the scheme, as "things are still in early stages", but did confirm they were hoping to get Manchester United on board in the near future. "The whole idea shouldn't be seen merely as penance for badly behaved footballers as it's such a worthwhile cause," he says.

Sir Elton heads for gay rights row over gig

Sir Elton John's next gig looks likely to place him at loggerheads with the gay rights lobby.

Later this month, the flamboyant star is due to perform at an open-air concert at the luxurious Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi. It's a surprising move considering the United Arab Emirates' appalling human rights record on gays. Homosexuality is illegal and hormone injections are administered to "cure" gays and turn them straight. Just two years ago, Sir Elton wrote an article for The Observer calling on the Government to do more for gay rights around the world.

At the time he wrote: "I want our government, which has presided over many positive changes for gay people here in Britain, to ensure that ending violations of gay people's fundamental human rights around the world becomes an explicit issue in its diplomatic relations with other countries."

Bowles on a roll

Peter Bowles reprised his role over Christmas as the cigar chomping smoothie Richard DeVere in To The Manor Born.

As usual, Bowles cut a dapper figure, but it wasn't always thus. He once spent a week shadowing journalists at the Evening Standard in preparation for his role as a gossip columnist in Lytton's Diary, where he horrified hacks by grubbily rolling his own cigarettes. "He'd stand at the bar in El Vino in these immaculately cut suits andpolished shoes, but let the whole look down by smoking his tatty self-rolled fags," says one.

"Mind you, he was usually always the first to stick his hand in his pocket when it came to buying the champagne so at the time we were willing to overlook it."

Dog's chance

Anyone who happened to see the blockbuster movie I Am Legend over the Christmas break will know the real star of the show isn't the actor Will Smith but his lovable solitary companion, an alsatian called Sam.

Despite her current lofty Hollywood status, the hound's journey to stardom is in fact a rather touching rags-to-riches tale. "We actually discovered her in a dog shelter," the director Francis Lawrence told me at the film's recent London premiere. "She's two-years-old. Her real name is Abbey."

Lawrence admitted he ended up caring for Abbey so much he wanted to take her home with him. "I really wanted to keep her myself after filming had wrapped but the trainer we hired took her in," he added.

Lights spell out Blunt truth

James Blunt has good reason to be proud of his squeaky ballad "You're Beautiful"; after all, the song has brought him fame and riches beyond his wildest dreams.

So proud of it in fact, I hear that he has paid homage to the song at his bolt-hole in Ibiza.

A recent visitor to the luxury pile informs me that Blunt has adorned the wall next to the swimming pool with fairy lights, which spell out the slogan "Everybody's Beautiful".

I doubt it will quell accusations that Blunt veers on the cheesy side of pop, but with the bevy of beauties that tend to surround him, maybe he's on to something.

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