Read this story or the footballer gets it…

With the news that Hulk's sister has been kidnapped (and safely released), here's one from the archives: in March 2011, FourFourTwo’s Andrew Murray investigated the madness that ensues when footballers and their families are kidnapped or held to ransom

“This was a stupid idea” Sibling rivalry rarely lasts into adulthood, so the mind boggles at the number of dollhouses Paraguayan defender Lider Marmol must have destroyed as a kid to irk his sister so much. The sibling in question, Perla, ended up faking her own kidnapping in an attempt to extort $40,000 from her little bro. After stumping up in October last year, the concerned 25-year-old rushed from Cancun in Mexico (where he now plays) to the family home in south-east Paraguay to comfort Perla, apparently released unharmed after three days’ incarceration. But cracks soon began to appear in the mother-of-five’s Coen brothers-style yarn. Police became suspicious of the amateurish hijacking and Perla’s inability to remember how, or where, she had been held hostage. Eventually she admitted to staging the abduction for a slice of her brother’s wealth. “I’m glad she’s safe, but this was a stupid idea she got into her head,” sighed the former Chicago Fire player.

The Cruyff (u)turnIt was one of football’s most enduring mysteries: why did Johan Cruyff miss the 1978 World Cup? At the time, it was assumed the Dutch maestro withdrew in protest at the military dictatorship in Argentina. But in 2008, Cruyff put an end to the speculation. “Someone put a rifle at my head and tied me and my wife up in front of the children at our flat in Barcelona,” he told Spanish radio of the 1977 ordeal, which forced him to reassess his priorities. Armed police slept in Cruyff’s flat for four months. “I couldn’t play in the World Cup after this.” Fair enough. 

Birthday shopping spreeWhat better way to celebrate your third day since turning 24 than by being swiped outside your girlfriend’s flat? Santiago Ladino, Velez Sarsfield’s buccaneering right-back, was marched to various cash machines across Buenos Aires in October 2004 and forced to withdraw money so his four armed captors could go shopping. Sated after a few hours’ retail therapy, the thieves dumped the full-back outside San Lorenzo’s home ground, five miles away. “This incident is no big deal: it’s the kind of thing that happens in Argentina,” mused Ladino’s unflustered father, Carlos.

“Let’s go, No Yo”Norum Yobo, brother of then Everton and Nigeria star Joseph, must have questioned the benefits of having a famous sibling when he was one of three men seized in the wee small hours outside Illusion nightclub in oil-rich Port Harcourt, southern Nigeria, in July 2008. His two friends were quickly released, but Norum had to wait 12 days for his ordeal to end, his snatchers attempting – and failing – to extort a ransom from the Premier League defender.

Berbatov’s real Godfather momentAs someone who learned English by watching the Godfather trilogy, Dimitar Berbatov must have feared the worst when Georgi Iliev, Bulgaria’s answer to Michael Corleone, had the 18-year-old snatched after CSKA Sofia training at the end of 1999, keen for the future Spurs and Man United star to play for his own team, Levski Kyustendil. Berbatov was en route to Iliev when he made a frantic call to his father Ivan, who negotiated a deal for his release.

Late 1999: Berba celebrates freedom (and a goal at Newcastle)

Romario returns fire In 1994, Romario’s unique preparation for La Liga and World Cup glory ran as follows: call Pele “mentally retarded”; see his father get kidnapped; hold Rio de Janeiro’s underworld to ransom. After Romario Snr – Edevair – was spirited from a bar in the city’s Penha distict on May 5, and a $7m booty demanded, Brazil and Barcelona fans held their collective breaths. Persuaded to stay in Spain by Barça coach Johan Cruyff (Real Madrid awaited two days later), Romario threatened to withdraw from USA 94 if his father wasn’t freed. Fearing for Brazil’s chances without their star, football-mad Rio mobsters inundated police with Edevair’s whereabouts. The 62-year-old was found in the stormed hideout sat on a mattress and glued to a telly, bought so he could watch his son create the only goal in the clasico win. Despite providing a diet of steak, beer and cigarettes for their victim, the captors were arrested.

“Papa, we’re waiting for you”With the 2003 Clausura championship won, River Plate legend Leonardo Astrada had his retirement sorted. The 33-year-old would lift a record 12th trophy with River on the season’s penultimate game at Olimpo before heading to the golf course. Instead, Astrada was awaiting news of his father Ruben. The 61-year-old was rammed off the road by rifle-wielding attackers, driven to a safe house and a $300,000 price put on his head. Before Los Millonarios’ final game, Astrada wore a T-shirt showing the message “Papa, we’re waiting for you.” Completing only 12 minutes of his swansong, Astrada left the pitch in tears. Ruben escaped after 27 days when the hostage takers abandoned their bolthole.

“I just want Quini back”Set against a backdrop of a failed political coup six days earlier and bombings by Basque terrorist group ETA, Quini’s 25-day abduction had Spain gripped. After scoring two goals in a 6-0 demolition of Hercules in March 1981, the Barcelona no.9 was bundled into a van by two unemployed mechanics and a debt-ridden electrician, who demanded a £1.8m pay-off. Team-mate Bernd Schuster initially refused to play until his team-mate’s release: “Apart from legs, I’ve got a heart,” he insisted. “I just want Quini back.” La Liga’s all-time sixth-most prolific scorer spent most of his incarceration in an underground Zaragoza car park until his ransom-less release, sporting a fetching beard. His clueless captors were each handed a 10-year jail term. Without their top scorer, Barça’s title hopes had collapsed – they won just one point from the four games he missed – but Quini still finished as the league’s top scorer.

Campos snatch has a bright endingMexico’s colourful keeper Jorge Campos had to come to his father’s rescue in February 1999. Campos Jr rushed back from international duty in Hong Kong after six AK47-armed members of left-wing rebels, the Popular Revolution Army (EPR), forced his 66-year-old dad from his car into a pick-up truck. Six days later, Campos Snr appeared at a police checkpoint 11 miles northwest of Acapulco in good health. Jorge refused to confirm whether he’d paid a reported five-figure ransom or simply blinded the captors with one of his shirts.

De la Pena uses his loafAs Barcelona star Ivan de la Pena left the Nou Camp after training on January 29, 2001, he noticed he was being followed. A hasty circumnavigation of an underground car park in his Porsche later, the follicly-challenged midfielder rang the police with his would-be abductors’ registration number. When local authorities caught up with the driver, he went on the run, flipped a stolen Ford Escort at a roundabout, shot a policeman and took his own daughter hostage before his eventual arrest. The other attacker, a struggling businessman who could already include a failed Barça kidnapping on an impressive CV, was arrested in 2003 and sentenced to two years’ prison.

IdlP: Short of hair, but not flair or brains

Real revolutionary   Not many captors become a successful sculptor and cubist painter, so hats off to Paul del Rio, who snatched Alfredo di Stefano from a hotel during Real Madrid’s South American tour in 1963. Working for Venezuelan guerrilla faction the National Liberation Front (FALN), Del Rio told Di Stefano not to panic: “We are revolutionaries who don’t agree with our country’s political regime. We’ll return you soon.” Indeed, the two-time European Footballer of the Year turned up at the Spanish embassy two days later. Bizarrely, the pair were reunited in a publicity stunt for 2005 flick Real: The Movie. “Unfortunately the kidnapping coincided with his son’s birthday, so he celebrated it with us,” recalled Del Rio of the incident which featured in the film.

Pirates on the radio
Fleet-of-foot Eduardo Bianchi – younger brother of then Boca Juniors coach Carlos – has his wife and athletic lower appendages to thank for a narrow escape. In the early hours of August 4 2003, Bianchi was preparing to open the family-run newsagents in Buenos Aires’ San Martin district when an armed gang sprang from a passing car. Reminiscent of his quicksilver 14-cap international brother, Eduardo took flight and sought refuge in a neighbour’s house. His hysterical wife rang a local radio station, screaming: “Some people have just tried to kidnap my husband,” while transfixed listeners heard the mob flee in the background. “He’s very nervous and hasn’t slept a wink for 24 hours,” Carlos later declared, to nobody’s surprise.

Mum’s the word in Brazil“Every day is a bad day when your mother is kidnapped,” said a philosophical Robinho four years after Marina de Silva Souza was seized from a relative’s home 45 miles from Sao Paulo, in November 2004. Santos’ prized asset was on the verge of a big-money move to Real Madrid when an armed gang jumped the garden wall, where Marina was preparing a barbecue. The 43-year-old was driven away in her car boot, while the other guests were locked in an upstairs toilet. Her 40-day abduction only ended when Robinho, then 20, paid the £50,000 ransom. The case spawned a wave of copycat mum-nappings: Luis Fabiano’s old dear endured a similar fate in March 2005, nine months after Fabiano joined Porto for £7.3million. Shoved into a waiting car on the way to meet a friend in hometown Campinas, Sandra Helena Clemente became the fifth snatched relative of a Brazilian footballer in five months following the Robinho precedent. When locals heard screams coming from a house, a 35-man police squad stormed the captors’ hideout and the 45-year-old’s 60-day hell was over. No ransom was paid. Marinho’s matriarch was next. The Corinthians defender shelled out $20,000 to release his mum, Alice Nazare, after she spent two months in captivity from May 2005. The 62-year-old was taken from her Santos home by a bunch of disguised florists. “It all started because people copied the Robinho kidnapping,” claimed Celio Marcelo da Silva – better known by his self-appointed moniker ‘Bin Laden’ – after his August 2005 arrest, proud of the legacy he’d began the previous year. “It doesn’t matter whose mother it is – people will kidnap them.”

Reunited: Robinho and his mum

Somalia’s training tale  We end as we began, with a phoney abduction – only this time the player himself faked his own kidnapping. Running late for pre-season training just last month, and aware of his club would fine 40% of his wages for such tardiness, Botafogo midfielder Somalia claimed he was carjacked at gunpoint at 7am, driven round Rio de Janeiro and relieved of money and jewellery. But when police found CCTV footage of the 26-year-old leaving his apartment bright-eyed and bushy-tailed two hours after the alleged incident, doubts were raised and criminal charges brought. With the threat of a jail term hanging over him, Somalia has come clean. “I was recovering from a massive party,” he admitted. “I say sorry to the staff and the fans. What a mistake this was.”