Adam Johnson admitted that he kissed a besotted 15-year-old fan in his Range Rover but he repeatedly denied that more serious sexual activity took place.
At the beginning of his trial - almost a year after he was arrested at his luxury home - he pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a child relating to the kissing.
And he also admitted "grooming" the teenager as they exchanged hundreds of social media messages over a two-month period.
But he continued to deny the girl's claims that more serious offences happened in the car.
The jury's decision came down to a simple question of whether they could be sure the teenager was telling the truth.
Over more than two weeks, Bradford Crown Court heard how the pair began communicating when Johnson's partner, Stacey Flounders, was heavily pregnant with their first child.
The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was a Sunderland fan and Johnson was her favourite player.
The jury was told how she was one of a group of fans who would wait for him to sign autographs and have pictures taken.
The girl was a "massive, massive Sunderland fan" and was infatuated with the player.
Johnson told the jury that when she sent him a friend request on Facebook he recognised her from outside the ground.
After he accepted the request he began a communication which involved 834 WhatsApp messages in little more than a month before the exchanges moved on to SnapChat and were not recorded.
Among the very first messages the pair swapped, the teenager made it clear she was at school and exactly what age she was.
When they first met up he was sitting in his black Range Rover with a number plate featuring his initials. He signed two shirts, one the girl had brought and another he had with him from the last match.
After this meeting, the messages continued and pair teased each other with talk of a thank you kiss.
When they met again, Johnson inquired again about his "thank you kiss".
Under oath in court, Johnson said the encounter went no further than this kiss.
The teenager, giving evidence over video-link, claimed that the footballer she idolised put her hand in his groin, over his trousers.
She also said he unbuttoned her jeans, putting his hand in her pants and that she performed a sex act on him.
The jury found Johnson guilty of one count of sexual activity with a child but he was cleared of a separate charge relating to the allegation that oral sex took place.
The court heard that straight after their encounter Johnson conducted a three-way conversation on WhatsApp - flirting with the teenager while chatting to Miss Flounders about their baby daughter, who had been born just three weeks before.
In one message, Johnson said to the girl: "Just wanted to get your jeans off."
The girl's parents took her to the police when rumours about what happened between her and Johnson exploded and she confessed to her mother and father.
But she did not make her allegations about oral sex until her second police interview.
Giving evidence, she explained how she was trying to avoid her idol getting into trouble and did not want to report him in the first place.
By the time she got to court, though, she said she had changed her mind about protecting the footballer.
"He knows for a fact he did it to me," she told the jury. "He lied about the others for a year and now he has admitted it.
"I've had thousands of people call me a liar for a year."
The girl answered questions for two days during the trial, occasionally bursting into tears.
She was asked about why her story varied as she told it to different friends.
But the girl stood by her claims saying some of the messages to her mates were just her "bigging herself up".
Perhaps the strangest aspect of Johnson's trial revolved around the state of the footballer's pubic hair.
The girl told the jury she had noticed the footballer was shaved in that department - something he denied. This claim led to both Johnson and Miss Flounders being questioned about his intimate grooming regime and the jury being provided with a photograph of Johnson's penis.