A few years ago, when the languid striker Alen Boksic was reputedly pulling in £63,000 a week for putting in the odd performance for Middlesbrough, a friend of mine would accurately predict the Croatian's availability for matches simply by taking a detour past his house on the way back from work.
While the club issued medical bulletins and talked of late fitness tests my mate would shake his head. "No go for Maine Road," he'd tell me on Tuesday evening. "Super Al's bins are already out." Refuse collection day was Friday. You don't put your bins out three days in advance unless you've gone on holiday.
During his time at the Riverside a story about Boksic circulated around Teesside. In a classic Armani suit-and bovver-boots combination, the ex- Juventus star found himself partnered up front by Noel Whelan. He was not impressed. And who can blame him? Whelan was a hard worker, a bustler, but he carried all the attacking threat of Tupperware. At one point during his Boro career he had scored more goals in his own net than he had in the opposition's. Boksic may have been so slothful he appeared to be teetering permanently on the cusp of hibernation, but he had standards.
According to the story, one Monday, after a particularly inept display by the former Leeds target man, Boksic went in to see the Boro secretary. "What does Whelan earn per week?" he demanded. The secretary told him. "And how long does he have left on his contract?" The secretary told him and the striker stalked out. The next day he returned, waving a cheque.
"This is the money Whelan will earn during the rest of his time here. Give it to him now," he commanded , "and tell him to fuck off ."