The Doping Controversies That Blacken the Name of Football (involving Guardiola, Conte, Zidane, Loew and more)

There are 65,000 professional soccer players worldwide. Last year, out of those 65,000, only 61 tested positive for banned substances, many of them recreational like cocaine. Some people think of sports like cycling where there are constant drug busts as being corrupt. The reality is that cycling is not more corrupt than football, cyclists fail drug test because they are tested. Because there are (some) people dedicated to rooting out corruption. Not so in football. If there is incentive to dope and the risks are minimal, you do the math. Here are some drug cases from the top 5 leagues in Europe.


Marseille with the European Cup, credit @ UEFA

As we discuss on the 20th episode of the PUPcast, Marseille won the 1993 Champion’s League, beating AC Milan in the final. Their team included players like Fabien Barthez and current French national team manager Didier Deschamps. Former player Jean-Jacques Eydelie, who played for Marseille in the 1-0 victory, said in L’Equipe magazine in January 2006 that he and several team-mates received injections before the match, implying premeditated doping. Marseille were also later found guilty of match-fixing in the domestic league and demoted to Ligue 2, although this did not affect their victory in Europe and they were allowed to retain the European Cup.


Jogi Loew with Stuttgart in 1998, credit @ Kicker

Peter Neururer, a coach in the German Bundesliga, accused players of his former club FC Schalke 04 of doping, alleging that almost all players in the club in the late 1980s took Captagon, an illegal substance in most countries, including Germany. Jens Lehmann, then a young player with the club, confirmed the allegations. FC Schalke 04 has denied the allegations. Two former team doctors of Eintracht Braunshweig confessed administering Captagon to players of the club in the 1970s and 80’s.

A report by German broadcaster SWR has revealed evidence in the allegations of doping against Bundesliga clubs VfB Stuttgart and SC Freiburg, in the 1970s and 1980s. SWR’s report states that they have obtained first-hand evidence in documents from Freiburg prosecutor’s office, showing the supply of various substances by doctors. Current Germany coach Jogi Loew was a player at both Stuttgart and Freiburg during this time, and later managed Stuttgart.


Pep Guardiola with the Champions League trophy, credit @ UEFA

Not only has it been revealed that there has been no drug testing in the Spanish league for over a year, but Spain is also the centre of perhaps the biggest drug coverup in sporting history. It has been almost 11 years since a series of police raids uncovered, among other paraphernalia, hundreds of bags of blood and plasma in the offices of former cycling doctor Eufemiano Fuentes (or “Dr Blood” as Tyler Hamilton, one of his former clients, called him), and almost four since Spanish judges issued an order to destroy them.

Le Monde had reported in December 2006 that they had possession of documents of Fuentes detailing “seasonal preparation plans” for Spanish football clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. These plans did not specifically name any players, and no footballer has ever been named in the case. Former cyclist Jesus Manzano told reporters that he had seen “well-known footballers” from La Liga visit the offices of Dr Fuentes, but with the judge’s order that the names will not be released we may never know for sure who they were.

Current Manchester City and former Barcelona & Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola received a four-month ban for testing positive for anabolic steroids in 2001 while playing for Brescia in Italy. In 2007, he was officially cleared of the drug charges. However, the prosecution reopened the case in 2008 before Pep was once again cleared by an Italian court in 2009.


Zidane with last year’s trophy, credit @ UEFA

Riccardo Agricola was convicted of supplying Juventus players with performance-enhancing drugs, including the banned blood-boosting hormone erythropoietin (EPO), between 1994 and 1998. A leading haematologist said it was “practically certain” that midfielders Antonio Conte (current Chelsea manager) and Alessio Tacchinardi had taken EPO to overcome brief bouts of anaemia, and “very probable” that seven other players – Alessandro Birindelli, Alessandro Del Piero, Didier Deschamps, Manuel Dimas, Paolo Montero, Gianluca Pessotto and Moreno Torricelli – had taken EPO in small doses. Agricola won an appeal against his conviction in 2005. Managing director Antonio Giurardo said “it was a minor accident which will now disappear, Juventus come out of this with our head held high”.

Current Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane told a Turin court he was given a variety of substances by Juventus officals during his five years at club, including Esafosfina, normally used for low phosphate levels; Neoton, used to strengthen the heart; and Samyr, an anti-depressant.

Edgar Davids received a four-month ban in 2001 for testing positively for anabolic steroids while with Juve.


Credit @ The Mirror

So far, only one English football player has ever tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs in a league match.

In the 2002-03 season, Rushden & Diamonds goalkeeper Billy Turley was let off with a mere warning after being found to have taken the anabolic steroid nandrolone. He was later banned for six months for testing positive for cocaine, which is deemed to be a recreational drug.

Middlesbrough’s Abel Xavier was banned in November 2005 from football for 18 months by UEFA for taking anabolic steroids after testing positive for dianabol after a UEFA Cup match on 29 September 2005. He is the first player in Premier League history to be banned for using performance-enhancing substances, as opposed to recreational drugs.

Adrian Mutu of Chelsea was banned after he tested positive for cocaine in the 2003-2004 season. He was banned for 7 months and was subsequently sacked by Chelsea.

Rio Ferdinand famously received an 8 match ban for missing a drug test. However, players “missing” drug tests is a regular occurrence in English football.  According to a statement of one of UK Sport’s Independent Sampling Officers (ISO), “If a club knows in advance we’re coming, and the club suspects one of their players, they keep him off training and his name doesn’t appear on the list I am given”.

An investigation by The Sunday Times in 2016 has found that Dr Mark Bonar charges sports stars thousands of pounds for illicit drug programmes. The undercover report revealed Bonar had  treated more than 150 sports people from the UK and abroad (including Premier League footballers) with banned substances such as erythropoietin (EPO), steroids and human growth hormone. He was introduced to several sportsmen by a former Chelsea fitness coach who himself said he had suggested to a Premier League player that he should contact the doctor about steroid treatment.

Credit @ BBC

Bonnar had not only supplied PEDs to ahtletes, but he admitted to supplying contestants from BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.

Even people competing on a charity reality TV show are using PEDs… would it really surprise you if most footballers were too?


For more football discussion including this topic, listen to the latest episode of the PUPcast here:

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