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10 Football urban myths that you believed - that aren't true at all

Man United
(Image credit: Getty)

It's fitting that the phrase, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes” is often misattributed. It was never Mark Twain that said it: it was Jonathan Swift instead.

If lies can travel quickly, just imagine how speedily they spread when they're about the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Zinedine Zidane. Often a well-told lie can be preferential to the truth: there are stories, facts or quirks in the beautiful game that are just too great to ignore, after all.

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But those trivia snippets you've been sharing with your mate? We're here to debunk them and ruin your fun. Sorry in advance. 

1. Zinedine Zidane was never called offside in his career

He was a magician. An enigma. One of the most naturally gifted footballers to have ever lived. But he wasn't perfect. 

You might have heard that Zinedine Zidane was never flagged offside in his career. And that sounds amazing - but it's false. He was off a few times, including against Manchester United for Juventus and in the 2006 World Cup, as you can see in the video above. 

Just for the record though, Gary Lineker was never booked - that really is true. Philipp Lahm was never given a red card in his career and Ryan Giggs was only ever sent off once, for Wales, giving him a spotless record at club level. But Zizou's offside fact is most certainly myth. 

2. Cristiano Ronaldo never tried to imitate Paul Scholes's tree trick

"When we were in training, I used to do a lot of tricks which hardly any players at the club could do," Cristiano Ronaldo apparently once said. "Once I was showing my skills to Scholes. After I finished, Scholes took the ball and pointed to a tree which was about 50m from where we were standing.

"He said, 'I'm going to hit it in one shot.' He kicked and hit the tree. He asked me to do the same; I kicked about 10 times, but still couldn't hit it, with that accuracy. He smiled and left."

It's a beautiful story. But Ronaldo never came out with those words. The closest that we have to that story from a reliable source is Rio Ferdinand claiming, "He'll do ridiculous things in training like say, 'You see that tree over there?' - it'll be 40 yards away - 'I'm going to hit it'".

Scholesy was more than capable of hitting that tree - but the story of him challenging Cristiano to a tree-off was a fabrication that seems to have spread across the internet, unfortunately. 

3. The last Wembley scorer (probably) wasn't Welsh-speaking

Welsh settlers moved to Argentina in the 1800s. That means that there are Welsh speakers in Patagonia, leading to a strange and spectacular urban legend around the fall of Wembley Stadium.

When Gabriel Batistuta scored for Fiorentina against Arsenal in 1999 in the Champions League, it was claimed that the legendary striker could speak Welsh - thanks to his Patagonian roots. This meant that the last Welsh-speaking footballer to have ever netted at the old Wembley was Argentinian: a fascinating quirk that could potentially win you the jackpot on a gameshow. 

We hate to be the bearers of bad news, however, but Batigol has never confirmed whether or not he can speak Welsh. He's never so much as uttered the words "Oh, what's occurring?" on the field, to anyone's knowledge. 

Batistuta is not the only Argentinian to have fallen victim of a Welsh rumour. Manchester United had to deny that Gabriel Heinze spoke the language at one point - perhaps out of Giggsy's embarrassment at speaking very little either. 

4. Ahn Jung-Hwan wasn't sacked by Perugia

You've heard the story. South Korea go on a madness at the 2002 World Cup: Ahn Jung-Hwan scores the winner against Italy and his club, Perugia, announce that they're going to sack the lad for his crimes against the Azzurri.

Well, that bit's true. Club owner Luciano Gaucci was quoted as saying, "I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football" - but according to Gaucci, it was more about "comments" that Ahn had made towards the nation of Italy and its team, rather than the goal he scored against them. 

But Perugia didn't actually own Ahn. He was on loan from Busan IPark - and Perugia actually wanted to extend his loan, once the red mist had cleared over the World Cup goal.

Ahn had other ideas though, not wanting to stay around and be insulted by angry Italians. After struggling to find another deal in Europe, he moved to Shimizu S-Pulse - but on his terms, rather than Gaucci's.

5. India's withdrawal from the 1950 World Cup had nothing to do with playing barefoot

India could be a superpower of football by now. They had a place at the 1950 World Cup and just withdrew, despite playing in a groundbreaking 4-2-4 formation, being one of the biggest teams in Asia and the popularity of the World Cup growing by the tournament. What if they'd have entered? Even won? Where would they be now?

The rumour goes that the eccentric Indians demanded to play barefoot, only for FIFA to issue the ultimatum of boots or nothing. This is a lie, though - according to one of the players.

Then captain of India, Sailen Manna, later mentioned that the shoeless claim had nothing to do with the country pulling out but there still hasn't been a definitive answer over 70 years later. We may never know - and India haven't come close to qualification since. 

6. Ronaldo wasn't forced to play the 1998 World Cup final by anyone

In 1998, a young(er) Gary Lineker reported the incredulous news from inside the Stade de France that tournament superstar and Brazilian talisman Ronaldo had been omitted from the line-up. Sheepishly, Linksy had to announce to Des Lynam a little while after that actually, Ronnie was starting.

Still, when Ronaldo turned out in the final and the Brazil team looked muted, the world began to guess about what had happened with the best footballer on Earth. Conspiracy theories were rife: The striker had apparently had a nervous breakdown, according to some, while sponsors Nike had intervened to assure he was in from the start. 

Some claimed that coach Mario Zagallo was to blame: while other claimed then-girlfriend at the time, Susana Werner – now the wife of Selecao keeper Julio Cesar – was having an affair with a Brazilian TV journalist, triggering R9's episode. Possibly the wildest accusation was that Brazil were paid by FIFA to throw the game in return for a soft path to the 2002 title and the tournament's hosting rights in 2014. Fortunately though, all of that is poppycock. 

"I had a convulsion. I was surrounded by players and the late Dr Lidio Toledo was there," Ronaldo himself confirmed. "All the essential medical exams didn't show anything was abnormal – it was like nothing had happened. I approached [Mario] Zagallo at the stadium and said: ‘I’m fine. I'm not feeling anything. Here are the test results, they’re fine. I want to play.’ I didn't give him an alternative. He had no choice and accepted my decision. 

"Then I played and maybe I affected the whole team because that convulsion was certainly something very scary. It's not something you see every day."

7. Shirt sales don't pay for players

Jack Grealish, most expensive British transfer

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Kit suppliers get 85-90% of shirt sale revenue. How many shirts do you think Nike would have to sell for Paris Saint-Germain to recoup the money that they're spending on Lionel Messi's wages, do you think?

It's a common lie that you hear touted even by respected people from inside football - but no, clubs never do make money back from shirt sales on players that they sign. Big players of course have an effect on how marketable the club can be - and that might lead to them being able to negotiate better deals - but that's a lot of shirts you're selling if you're relying on them alone.

And even then, there's usually a number of shirts that have to be sold by the manufacturer before a club gets to pocket that 10% that they might be getting from the deal. A club might only get £6 per shirt, in the end.

So for Manchester City to pay off Jack Grealish's transfer with shirt sales, everyone in the United Kingdom would have to buy 10 of their shirts - after, of course, Puma have sold a certain number in the first place. It's just not likely, is it?

8. Denis Law's goal didn't relegate Manchester United

"After 19 years of trying my hardest to score goals, here was one that I almost wished hadn’t actually gone in," Denis Law said, "I was inconsolable. I didn’t want it to happen."

He was referring to the goal that he scored for the blue half of Manchester to relegate the red half, back in 1974, after winning everything there was to win at Old Trafford. He's become famous for that back heel - but fortunately for Law, he needn't feel too bad about the incident. 

Even if United had beaten City that day, it wouldn't have saved them from relegation. Birmingham City beat Norwich City on the final day of the season to stay up - making the Manchester derby irrelevant. 

9. Arsenal have never been relegated

Arsenal

(Image credit: PA)

It's natural for fans to boast about their previous glories. But Arsenal fans claiming that the club have never been relegated is perhaps taking the pomp to rather historic lengths. 

It's true that Arsenal have the longest consecutive stay in the top flight - but if any Gooner tries telling you that their side has never so much as tasted second-tier football, they're lying. Woolwich Arsenal were relegated in 1913 - the year that they moved to Highbury.

After World War One though, the club were controversially promoted to the First Division over Tottenham - who'd finished higher than the Gunners - after Arsenal's chairman argued that his club deserved promotion because of its longer history. It's just another reason for Spurs fans to dislike their neighbours... 

10. Mario Balotelli maybe doesn't have as many tales as first thought...

Super Mario Balotelli peaked around 2012, becoming the subject of memes (before we even knew what memes were), online banter and entertainment a-plenty, with his tall stories and anecdotes of madness. In a world of Milners, Mario was wild - but how many of these urban legends were true?

Balotelli was apparently asked by a police officer why he had £5,000 in the passenger seat of his car when pulled over - but the answer "because I'm rich" has never been confirmed. Likewise, an investigation into the Italian never found that he had thrown darts at a youth team player as suggested.

There's no picture evidence that he dressed as Santa Claus to give out money to strangers either, or that he was playing on an iPad on the bench during an international. The story that he set fireworks off in his bathroom is only partially true - Mario said himself that he and his friends were all outside while it happened - while he couldn't confirm whether a viral video of him playing piano on YouTube was in fact fake, either.

Perhaps Balotelli really did have a point with the "Why Always Me" t-shirt...

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