Football is 100% clean.
~ Cristiano Ronaldo
I have never seen doping in football and I don’t think I ever will.
~ Vicente del Bosque
Doping is just as much a problem in football as it is in tennis, athletics, swimming and cycling. It’s part of daily life. I’ve worked with footballers. They use Testosterone, EPO, Ephedrine and Stimulants.
~ Stefan Matschiner
The one issue the world of football prefers to ignore is the issue of doping. Even when faced with the revelations of cyclists like Lance Armstrong, many footballers and coaches contend that all is well in their perfectly pristine world. Doping? It just doesn’t exist in football, they’d tell you. After all, “drugs don’t make you pass better.” Cycling, now that’s a sport that’s all about physique, so doping there is useful. Football, they argue, is about technique and tactics. Giving Rio Ferdinand EPO won’t turn him into Messi. So, there’s no need for footballers to even think of using doping, and therefore there’s no need for stringent testing either – as FIFA and other federations like to justify their weak testing policies.
It’s a ludicrous argument, that completely contradicts reality: in football, physical ability is highly important, as studies by sports scientists have demonstrated.
If a player is 5% short of the level they need to be to complete a 90 minute match, given its demands, then that player may well concede the half-a-second, or the half-a-meter, to the opposition that leads to the game’s decisive moment. Winning and losing are literally separated by these margins.
It’s completely obvious that, if in the 80th or the 85th minute you have the same coordination abilities as in the 3rd minute, because you’ve been treated with substances that improve the oxygen rates in your blood, then you have an advantage against your opponents.
Doping can also be beneficial for other purposes. For heightening concentration. For developing muscle mass. For recovery after a heavy match in a KO tournament. For healing an injury. Yet despite these benefits, footballers who want to use performance enhancing drugs face relatively low risks, compared to cyclists. Footballers and clubs have more money available, making doping a cheap investment. And whereas cyclists have to deal with far more, far better tests (which they have no problem circumventing), footballers are rarely tested. And when they are, usually all they have to do is give a urine sample – through which a variety of advanced doping techniques cannot be detected. Recently, Joey Barton expressed his surprise:
My personal experience of drugs tests, as a professional athlete, is that they have only ever taken a urine sample from me. Only urine, in numerous tests over 10+ years of competing at elite level sport. Seems strange to me after reading about cycling’s procedures. Where they frequently test by taking blood from the athletes. Sometimes storing that blood for years. I have never had blood taken during my whole career!
Considering the attractive combination of great advantages and low risks, the German legend Paul Breitner said it best in 2007, asking – Why would a footballer NOT use doping?
The footballer who believes that with doping he can keep his starting place, who can contribute more to victory, and can earn more money – why would he not use doping? The motivation to dope is the same for a footballer as it is for a cyclist.
An examination of doping cases in football shows that the history of the sport cannot be told without frequent references to doping. From the 50’s to the 00’s, doping, we must conclude, has always been an integral part of football. Hellenio Herrera’s Inter, Rinus Michel’s Ajax, Zinedine Zidane’s Juventus, and perhaps even Barcelona and Real Madrid in the 21st century – all are linked to the use of performance enhancing drugs.
In fact, stories of doping in football go all the way back to Arsenal in the 1920’s. But let’s, for the sake of chronological relevance, pick up the tale after World War II.
Here then are the most interesting cases of doping in football:
1954 – The Wonderful ‘Vitamins’ of Die Wunder Elf
Never in the 20th century had a football team been as dominant as Hungary in the early 50’s. Yet in the 1954 World Cup final they lost 3-2 to West-Germany. A variety of explanations have been given for this shock defeat: Hungary’s star Puskas was injured. The Germans coped better with the slippery pitch thanks to their new Adidas boots. The Hungarians were plain unlucky, hitting the post and having a valid goal canceled. They were nonchalant because they had beaten Germany 8-3 in the groups.
Following the match, syringes and needles were found in the German locker room. Puskas suspected doping, but the German doctor claimed he had merely injected a placebo. German scientist Erik Eggers has since examined the case and concluded the following:
There are several strong indications that point to the injection of pervitin in some Germany players and not vitamin C as it was claimed.
Pervitin is a stimulant which, as it happens, was also distributed to German soldiers in World War II to turn their fears into aggression.
1960’s – Il Caffè Herrera
Europe’s most successful team in the 1960’s was Il Grande Inter. The Inter of Helenio Herrera, the master of catennaccio. The Inter too of the great playmaker Sandro Mazzola. His brother, Ferruccio, was also on the team, but rarely ever played. In his autobiography, Ferruccio spoke openly about Herrera’s Doping practises.
Herrera provided pills that were to be placed under our tongues. He used to experiment on us bench players only to later give them to the first team players. My brother Sandro suggested to me that if I had no intention of taking them, I should just run to the toilet and spit them out. Eventually Herrera found out and decided to dilute them in coffee. From that day on “Il Caffè Herrera” became a habit at Inter.
Ferruccio’s more famous brother Sandro wasn’t too happy with his sibling’s revelations, as Ferruccio says:
I don’t know for sure what was in the pills, but I believe amphetamins. Once, after a Caffè Herrera, it was prior to a Como vs Inter (1967), I suffered 3 days and nights in a state of complete hallucinations. Nowadays, everybody denies, even Sandro. Since I decided to speak out, Sandro and I simply don’t talk to each other. He says that dirty laundry should be washed at home. On the contrary, I believe that it’s right to speak out, above all for my former teammates, some of whom are very sick or have already passed away.”
1967 – Ajax loves Sprinkles
The Ajax of Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff. Is there a more admired club team in the history of the game? But perhaps not all about them was as exalted as popularly believed. Defender Barry Hulshoff (pictured above), who won the European Cup with Ajax in 1971, 1972 and 1973, confessed that that he and his teammates at Ajax occasionaly received pills from Docter Rolink. In a 1973 interview, Hulshoff said to Vrij Nederland:
I can remember well, a season or five ago, just before the away game against Real Madrid, we received a white pill, and also something in a capsule. We called it Hagelslag [chocolate sprinkles] I have no idea what it was. You felt very strong and never were out of oxygen. The bad thing was that you lost all saliva in your mouth.
1977 – Beckenbauer’s Blood
Franz Beckenbauer revealed the secret to his fitness in a 1977 interview to magazine Stern.
As for me personally, I have a special method to remain at top level: the injection of my own blood. Several times a month, my friend Manfred Köhnlechner draws blood from my arm, and re-injects it in my butt. This causes an artificial inflammation As a result, the amount of red and white blood cells goes up.
I’m not sure whether such practices were illegal at the time, but it does show that even going back to the 1970’s footballers were experimenting with blood transfusions, and undergoing procedures aimed at raising red blood cells.
1980 – Not just at Feyenoord
In May of 1980, Feyenoord had to concede another championship to their great rivals Ajax. Both clubs were a pale shadow of their all-conquering 1970 sides, but Ajax at least had managed to win the league. Feyenoord had ended a disappointing fourth. But there was one chance to reclaim some glory. The Dutch Cup final. Played in Feyenoord’s own De Kuip. The opponent? Ajax. After an energetic match, Feyenoord won 3-1. Thirty years later, Former Feyenoord forward Jan Peters confessed that his team used doping.
We received all kinds of stuff before important matches. A cup with a drink, a pill, and a needle that went into my upper arm. I have no idea what it was. I didn’t care. But ten minutes into the game I felt a boost h.of energy. After the game, far into the night, I was still doing back flips in the discotheque. That’s how fit I was. Later in Belgium, Spain and Portugal I took stuff as well.
If what Peters says is true, it shows that throughout Europe, doping was common practise in the 1980’s.
1980’s – Algeria’s handicapped offspring
One of the more tragic cases of doping in football involves the Algerian national team of the 1980’s. Appearing from nowhere, Algeria managed to qualify for two World Cups. They impressed the most in the 1982 tournament, where they beat West-Germany. It appears however that the team received illegal assistance from their Soviet doctor. In an interview with goal.com Djamel Menad describes a consequence of the doping practises: he and seven of his teammates now have severely handicapped children.
1987 – Schumacher and the Walking Pharmacy
Toni Schumacher is best known for his violent assault on French midfielder Batiston, but the German International made headlines for another reason as well. In his 1987 biography, he didn’t hold back when talking about doping in Germany
Some players in the national team were genuine world champions…when it came to the use of “Stärkungschemie” [literally, Strengthening chemistry]. Among them was a player from Munich, whom we used to call the “walking pharmacy”.
As a result of this revelation, Schumacher was banned from the national team by Franz Beckenbauer of all people, who was now coach of the team.
1987 Breitner: “Doping is the Norm”
In the wake of Schumacher’s comments, the former goalkeeper had to deal with plenty of attacks, such as from Berti Vogts, until none other than Paul Breitner stood up for the truth:
Berti can’t be serious. During his long career he must have noticed the issue of doping. That’s an issue for everyone in the Bundesliga. Either the players use it themselves, or they notice teammates or opponents who have done so.
Breitner went on to speak plainly about doping in socccer:
But the fact is, everyone knows about it, because in the Bundesliga it is common gossip. Especially before start of the season it’s a topic with new players. How much they swallowed at their former club, and what it preferred at their new club. Doping is just as much the norm in football as in other sports.
1987 – Zico gets his injections
Zico, that symbol of all that is beautiful about football, confessed to doping too in 1987. He stated that even as a kid he received injections
Early in my career, when I was 16 or 17, I received two to three injections at monthly intervals. They gave me more strength to train. I gained mass without compromising speed and agility.
1993 – Marseille: Bribing wasn’t enough
The Olympique Marseille of the early 90’s will forever be tainted by their match fixing habits, but it appears there’s even more to blemish their achievements. Former Marseille stars Tony Cascarino and Chris Waddle spoke in their biographies about the suspicious injections they received at the French giants at the start of the 1990’s. Cascarino even enjoyed it:
After these injections I felt sharper, more energetic… if they’d discovered an illegal product I would have taken the ban. It was a risk I was prepared to take
But the most outspoken ex-player is Jean-Jacques Eydelie. In 2006 the former defender states that there was a systematic doping program at l’OM. He describes the scene just before the 1993 Champions League final against AC Milan:
On the day of the Final, Bernard Tapie demanded that all players should take a banned substance. All of us joined in a line, except one player: Rudi Völler. He was enraged and shouted German insults against the entire Marseille staff. He was really outside himself and could barely calm hilmself down.
Marseille won the match 1-0.
1994 – Wait, Maradona did drugs?
Diego Armando Maradona is perhaps the least surprising entry on this list. Despite appearing in an anti-drugs campaign in 1982, Maradona was by then already addicted to cocaine, amongst others. In 1994 he was busted for performance enhancing drugs too. After Argentina’s World Cup game against Greece, Maradona’s urine sample contained traces of five different substances: ephedrine, norephedrine, pseudoephedrine, norpseudoephedrine and metephedrine.
In fact, a year earlier, the Argentina squad had already used doping. Maradona himself blamed the Argentina football federation for doping players without their knowledge before the decisive World Cup qualifier against Australia.
They put something in the coffee and it made us run more. Grondona was well aware of it, he told us that there wouldn’t be doping controls. You have got to be pretty dumb if you go through ten controls, and then there is not one in the game which decides qualification.
1990’s – The sorry fate of Ronaldo
In the public’s eye the Brazilian Ronaldo ruined his own career through overeating, but perhaps an even bigger problem that prevented Ronaldo from delivering on his promise were his terrible knee injuries. At 21, he had won the Ballon d’Or twice and looked set to become one of the all-time greats. But repeated tendon ruptures ended that dream. According to Bernardino Santi, anti-doping official at the Brazilian football Federation, Ronaldo’s injuries were no coincidence. Doping use was to blame.
I spoke to some colleagues in Holland. They told me that Ronaldo, who was very fragile at the time, received steroids during his period at PSV. As a result his muscles grew more than his tendons were capable of sustaining.
Santi was promptly fired by the Brazilian football association, but similar statements have been made by Italian author Enzo Palladini, who wrote a biography on Ronaldo.
1994-1998 Rejuvenating the Old Lady with EPO
Perhaps the biggest, most advanced, most successful and best known doping case in 20th century football involves Juventus FC. During the late 90’s, the team won three scudetti, reached three successive Champions League finals and won a World Club Cup. The team was brimming with talent: Vialli, Ravanelli, Deschamps, Del Piero, Vieri, Zidane, to name a few.
But there was another pillar that supported their success: doping.
It was Roma manager Zdenek Zeman who first cast his doubts over the physique of several Juventus players. Zeman observed that players like Gianluca Vialli and Alessandro del Piero had grown in size in record time. A feat only achievable through doping. Zeman went on to state that doping was rampant in Italian football. He was immediately attacked by much of Italy’s football world, but a Turin magistrate named Raffaele Guariniello decided to launch an investigation.
After two years of dedicated research, Guariniello had gathered enough evidence to do what had never been done before in football: make a case against an entire club team for systematical doping use. Two years later, the judge delivered the verdict. Juve’s doctor Agricola was found guilty of administering illegal substances to footballers at the club, including EPO – the new form of blood-doping that had completely changed the world of cycling in the 90’s.
Astonishingly, when all was said and done, neither the club nor any of the players received any type of punishment. Worse, Agricola was allowed to stay on as Juve’s doctor.
1998 – England standing in line for injections
In his biography, Gary Neville makes a mention of something that happened in the English camp during the 1998 World Cup. Players lined up to receive injections.
When the 1998 World Cup started, some of the players started taking injections from Glenn’s favourite medic, a Frenchman called Dr Rougier. After some of the lads said they’d felt a real burst of energy, I decided to seize any help on offer. So many of the players decided to go for it before that Argentina match that there was a queue to see the doctor.
What was in these injections, we’ll likely never know.
2000 – Infusions at Parma
Last year, former Argentine midfielder Matias Almeyda spoke openly about doping use at Parma, the Italian club he played for between 2000 and 2002.
At Parma we received infusions before games. They said it was only vitamins, but entering the field I was able to jump as a high as the ceiling. Players do not ask questions but then in the following years there are cases of former players dying from heart problems, suffering from muscular issues and more. I think it is the consequence of the things that have been given to them.
Clearly, the Juventus doping case had done nothing to change the use of doping in Italian football.
2001 – Stam, Davids and Guardiola: Nandrolone is all the rage
The one doping case in which high profile players actually tested positive for doping use is the nandrolone affair of 2001 and 2002. Within a short period of time, several players were caught having used the anabolic steroid nandrolone, including world class players such as Jaap Stam, Edgar Davids, Frank de Boer, Christophe Dugarry, Fernando Couto and Josep Guardiola. Of course, they blamed it on ‘contaminated supplements’.
In an added twist, Guardiola’s doctor at his then club Brescia, Ramon Segura, worked as head doctor for FC Barcelona during Pep’s reign at the club.
2003 – Zidane’s Swiss Spa
As if his affiliation with the EPO-using Juventus of the 90’s wasn’t enough, Zinedine Zidane is implicated with another type of doping. That is, if we are to believe Johnny Hallyday. In a 2003 TV interview, the rockstar declared that he had received a “youth cure” through blood oxygenation, at a Swiss clinic that had been recommended to him by his friend Zidane, who went there twice a year. Such practices are, obviously, highly illegal for athletes.
2004 – Wenger talks EPO
Arsene Wenger made an interesting statement in 2004, revealing that several players he signed from other European clubs had abnormally high amounts of red blood cells – a symptom consistent with EPO use.
We have had some players come to us at Arsenal from other clubs abroad and their red blood cell count has been abnormally high. That kind of thing makes you wonder. There are clubs who dope their players without the players knowing. The club might say that they were being injected with vitamins and the player would not necessarily know that it was something different.
2004 – Doctor Del Moral’s ‘advice’ to Barcelona and Valencia
Cycling journalist David Walsh recently tweeted about a conversation between Cyclist Tyler Hamilton and one of his trusted ‘doping doctors’, Luis del Moral.
Tyler Hamilton recalled a short conversation with US Postal doctor Luis del Moral from 1999: “you guys take nothing in comparison to footballers.”
Indeed, Del Moral’s involvement with football teams was confirmed on the website of the company Del Moral used to work for. On this page, it featured a list of Del Moral’s previous employers. All references to Del Moral have been removed since his conviction, but a screenshot has saved the claims. On it it’s stated that Del Moral used to be medical adviser of several football teams, most notably Barcelona and Valencia.
Daily Telegraph journalist Matt Scott pursued the story and questioned Barcelona and Valencia about the claims.
The four-times European champions responded by stating that they had searched employment records and could confirm that Del Moral was “never on the staff payroll”. However, Barça said they could not guarantee that Del Moral had not been engaged on an ad hoc basis by the medical department during that period, or been used by individual players. When asked who ran the club’s medical affairs at the time, Barcelona did not respond. Valencia did not answer calls and did not respond to two emails.
2006 – Fuentes: King of All Spain
This is the big one. The case that has the potential to become the greatest doping scandal in all of football’s history. The case that should already have been the biggest doping scandal in all of football, if it hadn’t been for the Spanish authorities and their commitment to ‘protect’ Spanish football from the truth.
In 2006, Spanish investigators uncovered a wide doping network around doctor Eufemiano Fuentes. Most big name cyclists from around the world were implicated and subsequently banned. Then something strange happened. As soon as reports surfaced that footballers too, were on Fuentes’ client lists, no further action was taken.
Even during the current trial of Fuentes, the Spanish judge has forbidden Fuentes to name any athletes other than cyclists. Clearly, some people don’t want the truth to come out.
In a 2006 interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Fuentes himself stated the following
I worked with Spanish first and second division clubs. Sometimes directly with the footballers themselves, sometimes by sharing my knowledge with the teams doctors. I had an offer from an Italian club but I turned it down.
Fuentes refused to reveal which clubs he had supplied with doping:
I can’t tell which clubs, I have received death threats. I was told that if I told certain things, my family and myself could have serious problems. There are sports against which you cannot go against, because they have access to very powerful legal means to defend themselves. And it could also cost the current chief of the sport his post.
The only team now confirmed to have been on Fuentes’ list is Real Sociedad, that pesky Basque team about whom nobody in Spain cares. Meanwhile, Spain’s big teams, most notably the two giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, remain untouched by the scandal. Or do they?
Le Monde in 2006 claimed to have obtained two sheets of paper from Dr Fuentes’ Canary Islands residence. According to the French publication, the documents reveal that Real Madrid and FC Barcelona were making use of Fuentes’s services. They show, for example, that the main objective of FC Barcelona was the Champions League in May, which it won, as well as having the players peak for the World Cup. The training programs include circles and ‘IG’ symbols that correspond to preparation or rest periods. These are the same symbols that we’ve recently seen used by Dr Fuentes in his plans for Real Sociedad
Given the protection these two teams receive from higher-up, it’s possible that we might never come to know the truth about the ties between Real Madrid, Barcelona and Fuentes.
But does it even matter? Isn’t the mountain of evidence presented on this page, already sufficient to turn anyone into a sceptic? Don’t the statements made by Cristiano Ronaldo and Vicente del Bosque suddenly appear to border between the comical and the suspicious? Are they truly ignorant of all that has happened and is still happening in the sport? Are they simply protecting their little world? Is there a similar code of silence among footballers as there is among cyclists?
Perhaps. In 1987 Paul Breitner said the public wasn’t ready to deal with the fact that doping is rampant in football. 26 years later, has the public become informed enough to accept the reality of doping in football?
It’s a question everyone must answer for himself.
Are you ready to accept that your favourite players and your favourites teams may be using illegal performance enhancing drugs?