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May 13, 2011

Zanetti fears potatoes, Gattuso's pants

Off The Ball never rests in its mission to scratch around the underbelly of professional football to find the most bizarre, humorous and inexplicable stories.

This week, Gennaro Gattuso sings "Leonardo is a man of s***" in his underpants, Super Mario Balotelli takes on a school bully, Inter millenarian Javier Zanetti explains why he is scared of potatoes, fat Ronaldo heads to Hollywood and the other one breaks a man's nose.

Millenarian Zanetti scared of potatoes

Indefatigable Inter Milan legend Javier Zanetti may have racked up an amazing 1,000 matches following his appearance in the Coppa Italia semi-final against Roma this week but put a lentil or a potato in front of the inspirational skipper and he becomes a quivering mess.

"I was skinny," the 36-year-old recalls. "We saw a lot of doctors. Some said that I wouldn't grow. Others said that I would. One of them recommended that I eat lentils and potatoes. It traumatised me. I am incapable of swallowing one or the other to this day."

That was during a difficult start to his career and after he had been let go by Independiente's academy the five-time Serie A winner became a milkman. Downing a pint of milk a day seemed to do the trick and Zanetti finally made his debut for second division Talleres against Instituto Cordoba in 1991.

On Wednesday the Argentina international marked his 1,000th game with a special commemorative captain's armband, that featured the names of nine other players to reach the milestone, including Peter Shilton, Ray Clemence, Pat Jennings, Paolo Maldini, Andoni Zubizarreta and Roberto Carlos. Zanetti's favourite goal during his 20-year career? His strike against Perugia in the 1996-97 season .

"Leonardo is a man of s***"

Throat-grabbing AC Milan manimal Gennaro Gattuso admitted this week that he's been in more trouble this season than in the past 16 after being filmed in his pants, singing a derogatory song about former coach Leonardo alongside the club's ultras .

The fan's favourite sang "Leonardo uomo di merda" (Leonardo is a man of s***) about his old Brazilian boss, who is now in charge at arch-rivals Inter, with the Curva Sud after Milan clinched the Scudetto on Saturday at Stadio Olimpico. Gattuso now regrets his impromptu sing-song and could face a heavy fine from Italian officials.

"I always take responsibility for myself," Gattuso told La Repubblica. "All this fuss for a prank seems exaggerated. If I could go back in time, given all the mess it has caused, I wouldn't do it again."

Gattuso, who was banned for four matches by UEFA for head-butting Tottenham Hotspur first-team coach Joe Jordan in February, concluded: "I've made more mistakes this season than in 16 years as a professional."

Super Mario saves boy from bullying

With Mario Balotelli seemingly taking a break from throwing darts at his team-mates his previously frustrated PR people have taken the opportunity to launch an all-out charm offensive. The Manchester City striker recently gave some money to a tramp and this week he took on school bullying.

The story goes that the Italian striker was asked for an autograph by a young fan at City's training ground and after asking the lad and his mum why he was not in school, Balotelli discovered that the boy was being bullied.

The trio then piled into the 20-year-old's Maserati, drove to the school and demanded to speak to both the headmaster and the bully, during which Balotelli apparently mediated as the two boys buried their differences. The unlikely hero then hopped back in his car and sped off.

A source told one newspaper: "Mario feels strongly about bullying and thinks it's out of order. He had no qualms about sorting the mess out as he felt the lad should not be missing out on school."

Fat Ronaldo heads to Hollywood

Having made his mark on the pitch, Brazil's two-time World Cup winner Ronaldo will wrap his belongings in a handkerchief, tie it to the end of a pole and head to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune on the silver screen.

The former Real Madrid and Inter Milan striker, who retired from professional football at the age of 34 in February after suffering chronic knee problems, will feature in Marcio Garcia's new film 'Open Road' and star alongside leading actors such as Juliette Lewis, Andy Garcia and fellow Brazilian Juliana Paes.

Well, 'star' might be stretching it a bit as Ronaldo will have a small role in the movie and will play a bank robber. Well, 'small' might be stretching it a bit as they say the camera will add 10 lbs to the portly performer.

Ronaldo, who follows in the footsteps of Eric Cantona and Vinnie Jones in trying to forge a movie career, said: "I will study the art of film as I'm determined to do a good job." If he is half as good at acting as he was at football he'll be bagging an Oscar in no time.

CR7 breaks a man's nose

Meanwhile, over in Spain, the other Ronaldo, Cristiano, was doing everything he possibly could to divert attention away from Barcelona's stroll to the Liga title, including breaking the nose of one of his adoring fans.

During Real Madrid's clash with Getafe, the wax-chested one booted the ball off the pitch and straight into the unfortunate Madridista's kisser, smearing his schnozzle all over his face .

Ronaldo did also manage to score his second perfect hat-trick (left foot, right foot, header) of the season in the 4-0 win to deny arch-rivals Barca the league trophy for a few more days and afterwards presented the injured fan with his hat-trick shirt.

At least he would have done had an over-eager Real official not swapped his sweaty top for a much less valuable but freshly-pressed shirt with some late sleight of hand. The recipient seemed happy enough and has a cracking story to tell down el pub.


Video of the week

There were plenty of contenders for this coveted spot this week. Zlatan Ibrahimovic kicking Antonio Cassano in the head came close, but in the end there was one clear winner: The Australian A-League blooper reel .


More than words...


A Deportivo la Coruna fan refuses to take part in the massive flag-waving antics of his peers. ©Getty Images


Around the web

• Ronaldinho is set to take part in Dancing with the Stars.

• Man United fans campaign to get '19' to No. 1 when club wins title.

• Roberto Carlos hugs and signs an autograph for pitch invader.

• Man City fans attack Man City fan for not having right accent.

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