Last month I wrote an article:- Corruption in Football? You can’t be serious!, following on from immense media speculation that matches were being fixed. Like any sensational news, it becomes tomorrows ‘fish & chip paper’ within a few days, everything dies down and then it’s on to the next topic!
A story that has been circulating for a while, certainly for the last six weeks or so, is the sensational allegations of doping at Barcelona. The English media has been loath so far to print anything for fear of reprisals etc… but the Spanish media have been all over this story for a while now. I do hasten to add however that the purpose of THIS article is not to make judgement or sensationalise these allegations, merely report what has already been reported. It is certainly not breaking news, more simmering news!
The latest allegations started about six weeks ago when Cadena Cope (a Spanish radio station) reported that the powers to be at Real Madrid had asked UEFA to conduct stronger anti-doping checks in Spain. Cadena Cope claimed that this was triggered by Real Madrid’s strong suspicion that the Barcelona players had been doping in recent years, which would explain their “unusual and exceptional” physical condition.
It was then reported that Florentino Pérez called Sandro Rosell at Barcelona shortly afterwards to explain that Real Madrid had nothing to do with the allegations. Onwards, Barcelona apparently then begun legal action against Cadena Cope for their assertions.
Although Barcelona remained quiet about Real Madrid in the beginning, Sandro Rosell has recently responded with various comments, hinting that Real Madrid are indeed behind the whole story, while Joan Laporta also spoke out, saying that Barcelona should sue Real Madrid immediately as they were clearly behind the whole affair.
Pep Guardiola has also alluded to Real Madrid being responsible when he said “Florentino Pérez and Cadena Cope should get their stories straight”. In fairness to him, he has a point!
Some ten days ago, there were surprise drug tests carried out by by UEFA officials after a Barcelona training session in which they tested up to some 10 players. Gerard Piqué tweeted “what a coincidence, we got drug tested by UEFA today”. So all in all, not a very pleasant situation, although as I say, it has certainly been kept very quiet.
Obviously, this has been an incredibly contentious and sensitive topic in Spain (no sh*t). Recently, a man called Siro Lopez, the newly appointed director of Defensa Central (a pro-Real Madrid website), quit his post. This was following unsubstantiated allegations about the effect anabolic steroids have on the liver, implying that Barcelona’s French player, Éric Abidal had been using banned substances. (Éric Abidal recently underwent a liver transplant following discovery of a recurrence of a liver tumour)
Somebody posted an article on the website stating facts about the effect that anabolic steroids have on the liver. Siro Lopez went on the popular football talk show Punto Pelota (where he is a frequent guest) to announce that he was quitting Defensa Central, while in tears, and called the person who posted the article as an “hijo de puta” (that is motherf*cker to you and me!) – Yup, well said, I say… Definitely below the belt in my opinion!
Where is the evidence?
Having spent over twenty plus years working in the legal profession, I am very conscious that anyone can make allegations about another, but I firmly believe that without any substantive evidence it means sweet FA! – Sure it can be unpleasant, and yes, there is the train of thought that there is never smoke without fire, but the reality is and always will be in my mind, hard irrefutable facts are the only concrete guarantee of anyone’s guilt or innocence… sorry, I do believe it is very wrong to ‘assume’!
So, is there any real evidence that Barcelona players are doping? In my opinion, the following is at best only circumstantial, although many are using it as evidence…
- Pep Guardiola was caught while playing in Brescia in Italy using the banned substance nandrolone. There was a legal dispute in which he was absolved of the charges by Brescia, but there has been a general controversy about the way he was absolved, with some Italian anti-doping officials claiming that the investigation should have continued. The same doctor who was working at Brescia when Guardiola was there is now working in Barcelona as one of the head doctors. What does this prove? Nothing! – With respect to those reporting this, are Barcelona that stupid?
- Barcelona doctors are infamous for extensively using vitamin shakes. It has been part of the Barcelona culture for quite some time, and there are rumours that such shakes contain illegal substances that are hard to detect. Unproven in my opinion, and I think you may find many top European clubs, perhaps including clubs in the Premier League may also use these so called vitamin shakes. In my opinion this proves nothing!
- Formerly injury-prone players such as Xavi, Messi, and Iniesta rarely get injured anymore despite playing nearly 90 minutes of every Barcelona match. The former physical fragility of various other players has also been suggested as an indication of ‘doping’. Frankly I think it is all boll*cks. The thought of such great players as Xavi, Messi and Iniesta enhancing their performance, to me, smacks of jealousy and downright slander! – Maybe it is me, but the idea of such great names enhancing their performance doesn’t sit well with me at all!
- Barcelona players appear to be almost as fresh at the end of every match as they are in the beginning. It is always said that this is because how much possession they always have, but it is nevertheless suspicious that players that aren’t known for being particularly of an athletic build manage to run as much as they do and with as much intensity in every game. Again, this doesn’t sit well with me. These players train hard and are after all professional athletes. They should be fit and able to last 90 minutes without too much difficulty, even if they do play twice a week!
- Barcelona always travels the same day to every away game, which is said to be triggered to reduce the chances that there is a surprise drug test by UEFA officials. Come on!
- In Spain, drug tests are done much less frequently than in other leagues. Teams always get to know in advance when they will be tested, and blood tests are rarely done. The number of players tested every season is also significantly low. I don’t disagree with this point, but this doesn’t mean every team is using banned substances… does it?
- In the last 18 months, Barcelona have “conveniently” suspended two training sessions before a UEFA drug test, one which led to a fine to the club by UEFA officials. This in my opinion is clutching at straws… trying to build a case!
- The infamous Dr Fuentes has been heavily linked with being involved with Barcelona in the past. I alluded to this in my article Arsene Wenger wants blood! A few months ago there was also an allegation by a fellow prisoner (Fuentes was in prison at the time obviously) that Fuentes had confided in him that “if people actually knew the truth, the World Cup would be taken from Spain immediately“. Maybe it is true… Maybe?
So is any of this new?
Danny Mills suggested players would do “anything to get an edge” on team-mates, including trips to doctors abroad to get illegal treatment and he has warned of the dangers of getting sucked into the win-at-all-costs world of English football.
The game now is of such high intensity that you have to be able to compete as a top athlete at the highest level so you’ll do almost anything,
said Mills, who reached a Champions League semi-final with Leeds United and a World Cup quarter-final with England in a 14-year career ending in 2009.
Everyone is getting fitter, stronger, trying to prevent injuries, looking for that new idea, that miracle cure to get them back from injury quicker. If you play Saturday, Wednesday, Sunday and can reduce the effects by legal means or otherwise then there will be players who will be tempted.
Mills’s experience of the influence of medicine in football was most marked with England :
Before the lead-up to the 2002 World Cup, we had six months of saliva tests, urine tests, blood tests, so when we turned up, we were given pills of what we were deficient in. I’d come down to breakfast and there’d be a cup of pills with my name on it. I had six in the morning, six at night. I didn’t ask what was in it. You trust what you are given. It was legal. It was magnesium, a bit of ginseng.
At Leeds in the Champions League, we had vitamin B12 injections a week before a game and it would give you that perk up.
When I was at Middlesbrough, I had painkilling injections for six months in a really bad toe before games and at half-time just to get through games. I’d wake up at midnight in agony, toe an absolute balloon, throbbing.
I played when I shouldn’t have done. I had injections to numb the pain, Cortisone to get me fit for games. It was rife. Cortisone was good but only if injected into pockets of fluid. If injected direct into a tendon or muscle you had to have 10 days of doing nothing. That wasn’t understood in the early days. It was a quick fix. That muscle would start to break down because you were hiding the problem. It was abused.
I had four cortisone injections. I took a lot of advice. I took an interest in what I was putting into my body. Lots of players didn’t question it. It wasn’t illegal but it was pushing your body to the limit and past it for the sake of the team. Lads would pop anti-inflammatories religiously. If you have a bad back or bad knee, it’s a fantastic drug but you’re just hiding the issue.
Players would do anything to get an edge on team-mates or opponents. People said: ‘Creatine’s bad for you, people are dying’. Taken in wrong amounts yes. But it allows you to build lean muscle quicker. I took it.
Night Nurse was banned for a while. Night Nurse is fantastic. If you’re struggling to get to sleep, Night Nurse knocks you out. I took it. That could possibly have cost me my career.
There was a period when I had five doping tests in a row! It got to the point where I said: ‘If you do me again, I’m not turning up’.
I’ve had PRP [platelet rich plasma] injections. If you have a muscle injury, you take out blood and spin it. It separates white and red cells and the plasma. The plasma has all the antibodies so that is injected into an injury and aids healing time by a third. It was undetectable.
I was offered it in the States after having some physio there. A guy came up to me with his business card, saying: ‘This is what we do, PRP injections’. It was illegal at the time.
I started to think: ‘This could help me. What harm does it do? It’s not going to enhance my performance. All it will do is help aid my injury’. I was a bit concerned so I went through the official channels, got letters from the FA. But there are guys in Spain, Germany and America where you could book an appointment. Players went off and had it done.
Why do players always go abroad for treatment? Is it because they trust that physio or because other treatments are available that doctors in this country won’t do? Players would go to Spain and Germany and get all sorts of different injections like calf serum, animal products.
So, is there any proof…? Not really, other than what has been suggested or purported in Spain. Yes, Danny Mills was forthright in his comments about his own career, but that doesn’t mean it is going on in Barcelona… or does it? Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, Lance Armstrong and the like does prove that banned substances have been used in sport, but surely if it is as rife as is being suggested, even those muppet’s at UEFA cannot be that stupid to consistently miss it… or can they?
Ultimately, although I know I can only speak for myself, I suspect almost every football fan would not want to believe or have concrete evidence presented to them that great players such as Lionel Messi, are taking performance enhancing drugs. Somehow, it would shatter not only our illusion of such outstanding players, but our beautiful game too! – Enough said!