Midfield wizard `made cars vanish'

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THE Germans too have their football scandals. But not for them British-style bungs, cocaine-sniffing or wrecking nightclubs. Instead a top footballer has been arrested in connection with a criminal scam involving about £100,000 worth of luxury ca rs - and could be jailed for 10 years.

The Eintracht Frankfurt star, Maurizio Gaudino, who was selected for this year's World Cup squad, already had a high media profile -"women's heart-throb and football magician", in the words of Bild. Now, the story of his arrest has both damaged and addedto the legend.

The police arrested the 28-year-old just as he came offstage after appearing on the country's most popular television talk show. Add the fact that Gaudino's wife, Sonja, is about to give birth, and that they were expecting to celebrate a family Christmas, and the emotional sub-plots are tailor-made for the scriptwriters.

Gaudino - who, police said yesterday, has confessed to all charges - is accused of involvement in a ring which arranges for expensive cars to be "stolen", in order to claim insurance money. They are driven to eastern Europe and sold there.

The money is then claimed a second time, from the insurers.

At his appearance on the late-night chat show, hosted by the flamboyant Thomas Gottschalk, Gaudino danced on rollerskates with his fellow guest Katarina Witt, East Germany's former skating megastar. "Pity, Maurizio," said Gottschalk, "I'd have liked to see you fall flat on your face."

When Gaudino returned to dressing room number 33, the police were waiting. "No panic, everything's OK," the £360,000-a-year midfielder is reported to have said.

Gottschalk pointed out that the footballer's arrest went against hallowed tradition. "The usual practice is first to be arrested - and then to appear on a talk show."