Whether you love him or hate him, and there are plenty of people who do both, there is no doubt that le professor, Arsène Wenger, Arsenal manager of 16 years plus, is an extremely intelligent and articulate man bearing in mind that English is not his mother tongue. As such, when he speaks about anything considered to be as controversial, it would be reasonable to assume, just as night follows day, that he has a fair idea of what he is talking about…
Wenger has called for all footballers to have routine blood tests to combat doping in football, as opposed to simple urine tests that take place at present. He has also said that tougher measures need to be introduced to combat wider corruption such as match fixing. He likened the scale of match-fixing revelations revealed last week that Europol are investigating to a tsunami. He did however say that he does not believe that English football has a problem with bribery of match officials.
Arsène Wenger said in the Guardian newspaper :
“Honestly, I don’t think we do enough” (regarding doping controls in football)
Wenger’s comments are timely in view of the on-going trial of a certain Eufemiano Fuentes (Dr Fuentes) that started at the end of January 2013. Some six and a half years have passed since there was a raid on a house, in Calle Caídos de la División Azul, in Spain where Fuentes gave blood transfusions to his athletes. According to the Spanish Justice, the trial will take two months, with up to 35 witnesses being called to give evidence under oath. Will Spanish football be in the spotlight? This is an area that we are currently investigating further, but for legal reasons, we do not wish to commit to print until we have all of the facts, but we will be following this up!
The accused: Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, his sister Yolanda, his aide José Merino Batres, the trainer Ignacio Labarta, and the former chiefs of the cycling-teams ONCE (Manolo Saiz) and Kelme (Vicente Belda). Spanish newspaper El Pais wrote back in September 2012 that the six may be sentenced to two years in prison because of crimes against public health (two years? You’re having a laugh!)
The prosecution intends to call policemen as witnesses together with various cyclists: among them Alberto Contador, Ivan Basso and Jörg Jaksche. Footballers are neither accused nor called to be as witnesses. But if the Madrilenian prosecutors are serious, then there could be talk about drugs in football and it should be investigated… NOW!
Eufemiano Fuentes worked with Walter Viru. Viru was meant to be arrested in the summer of 2006 through Operacion Puerto, but the Spanish Guardia Civil didn’t have sufficient manpower (what a surprise!).
Together with Fuentes, Viru administrated the drug-system they concocted at the cycling team Kelme, whose former manager is now one of the six accused. Further, Viru had his own drug network, which the police discovered three years later during Operacion Grial. In November 2009 policemen raided numerous medical practices and found large amounts of the human growth hormone, EPO together with other drugs.
Viru’s clients were predominantly cyclists and athletes from track and field. He had close contact to drug-doctor Luis Del Moral. In an interview with the French sportspaper L’Equipe, the whistleblower, Jesus Manzano says, that Del Moral has been a very good friend of Walter Viru. According to Manzano, Viru warned Del Moral every time drug-testers were on their way to visit US Postal (I think you will find that was the team that Lance Armstrong rode for…)
The Football connection…
Luis Del Moral worked from 1999 until 2003 as a team doctor for the cycling team US Postal as mentioned above. Del Moral continued to mentor athletes after he left US Postal back in 2003. He worked in Valencia (I hear the alarm bells…) at the university and as a consultant. While based at this institute, Del Moral worked for FC Valencia and FC Barcelona. What? – No evidence has been presented as yet, nor has it been confirmed as to Del Moral’s exact involvement with either FC Valencia or FC Barcelona, but questions do need to be (and no doubt, will be) asked!
The former Real Sociedad president, Inaki Badiola, has said that before he took charge in 2008, the club had made covert payments for “medicines or products classified as doping” substances and that Fuentes “could have been” the supplier. His predecessor as president, José Luis Astiazarán, responded by saying:
“I never had knowledge or suspicion of illegal practices by the club’s medical services, who always worked to the maximum ethical and professional standards. If I had, I would have taken the necessary action.”
Arsène Wenger has said he is frustrated at the on-going trial of Dr Fuentes, particularly as it is limited to cycling, even though Fuentes has admitted openly as to working with other sportsmen from other fields (and that surely includes footballers!).
Wenger wants greater transparency into the issue of doping than blood tests currently provide. Presently, players are selected on a random basis simply to provide a urine sample after matches or on occasion at the training ground. This is not enough according to Wenger, and I have to say I whole heartedly agree! “Sometimes, you have to wait for two hours after the game [for a urine sample to be provided], so blood could also be a lot quicker,” he added.
Wenger said very firmly that sport in general was “full of legends who are in fact cheats”. Well we know that to be true, just look at a certain Mr Lance Armstrong!
Wenger has been quite forthright in voicing his concerns:
“The Spanish doctor is in front of the Justice just to see how he did doping. They are not interested at all in who he has doped. They have found pockets of blood but they don’t even ask to whom does that belong. The Justice should go deeper. When you look at the functions of this doctor, it is quite scary. He was involved in the Olympic team, football team, cycling team.”
Wenger’s comments are dogged as always, and specifically about our game. He says
“It is very difficult for me to believe that you have 740 players at the World Cup and you come out with zero problems. Mathematically, that happens every time. But statistically, even for social drugs, it looks like we would do better to go deeper”.
“I would support blood testing, UEFA are ready to do it but it poses some ethical problems because everyone has to accept that they will check the blood and not everybody is ready to do that.”
There is no doubt that this is a huge problem not only in sport, but dare I say in football too. I will be following the Dr Feuntes trial with interest and the developments to this whole ‘tsunami’ (to quote Wenger). I will be doing further articles on this topic over the next few weeks!
I think the best way to sum up what can only be described as a disaster for our game is to leave the final word to le professor…
“It’s time that we tackle this problem in a very serious way and that people who cheat are punished in a very severe way as well. You cannot accept that somebody works the whole week to spend his money to go to a game and he is cheated, because all is decided before he gets to the stand”.
Well said Arsène… and to the powers that be (namely, UEFA and FIFA), please take note!