Doping in football-including Fuentes’ role in the dark side of the beautiful game


All sports have suffered from doping, yet football seems to be the most ‘clean’. There have been few real high-profile doping cases in the past. Of course, one of the most infamous doping incidents was Diego Maradona when he tested positive for cocaine in 1991. While cocaine is probably more of a distraction than a performance enhancing drug, Maradona was banned for 15 months. It must be mentioned that cocaine does give the user a lot of energy. It is believed that he started using the drug in 1983 at Barcelona, but he still did not test positive for 8 years! This highlights the poor quality of doping tests. (More on this later)

Carlos Alberto was one player that failed a drugs test recently. He tested positive for the banned diuretic hydrochlorothiazide-a masker of doping. The once Brazilian international, from the years 2003-2005, failed the drugs test after helping his Vasco da Gama side beat Deco’s Fluminense side 3-2, on March 2nd. Carlos Alberto was “acquitted” of doping on May 22nd by the Court of Justice for Rio Sport, TJD-RJ, though an appeal from the original prosecutors is likely. Additionally, FIFA want to take the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. If the CAS gets involved, the Brazilian attacking-midfielder could be suspended for up to two years.

Uh-Oh Deco

The ex-Chelsea and Portuguese international midfielder Deco was one more high-profile recent surprise; after he tested positive for another banned diuretic, this time furosemide. Deco, another player in the Campeonato Carioca, tested positive after helping his Fluminense side beat Boavista 2-0, on March 30th. Like all diuretics, the substance can be used to hide performance enhancing drugs. Deco was a key part in José Mourinho’s Champions League winning Porto side. He was suspended from playing temporarily. He was then allowed to play again, but faces an impending court case. Deco claims that he ingested the substance through vitamin supplements which he brought from a pharmacy. According to Brazilian reports he has appointed solicitors to take legal action against the pharmaceutical company.

The questions which should be posed are: Why would a player suddenly start doping at 35? Of course physical decline is a reason, but why would you risk your reputation at 35, when your best days are behind you?

Edgar Davids is another player to have failed drugs tests later in his career span. Davids, widely regarded as past his peak at 28, tested positive for the illegal performance enhancers norandrosterone and noretiocolanolone. Both the substances are anabolic steroids. In April 2001 the Italian Olympic Committee announced that Davids had failed a preliminary doping test. Davids denied any wrongdoing, as is often the case with offenders. The Dutchman then failed the second doping test, conducted after Juventus played Udinese on March 4th 2001. The results confirmed the preliminary test’s results. The first test had a result of 2.6 nanograms per millilitre and the second test showed a 2.7 reading. The limit of nandrolone permitted in the body is 2.0 nanograms. The now Barnet player-manager served less than a 4 month ban from football. He was the eighth player in Italy that season to test positive for nandrolone. He suggests that dietary supplements or homeopathic medicines might explain the high nandrolone levels. Mark Bonisch, Claudio Cannigia, Fernando Couto, Frank de Boer, Adrian Mutu and Japp Stam are all examples of other players who have played after failing a drugs test. (I could have written about them but I am wary of information overload!)

Davids’ time at Juve is tinged by his failed drugs tests

Football is the world’s most popular sport, with lots of money involved. Doping must, sadly, exist. Some people will stop at nothing to earn more money or win more trophies. The existence of doping was virtually proved when even more sinister news followed. While Deco’s positive test was a ripple in the water, the following guilty verdict was a seismic wave.

Astonishing claims from the “doping doctor”

For some reason the news did not receive as much media coverage, interest and outrage as it deserved in the footballing world. On April 30th, in the court case for Operación Puerto, the Spanish “doping doctor” Eufemiano Fuentes was found guilty of carrying out medical procedures in an unsafe environment. He was charged with “endangering public health”. At the time, doping was not illegal in Spanish law, so Fuentes got away with a pathetic 1 year suspended jail sentence and a €4,500 fine. (There used to be no anti-doping law in Spain) His partner in crime, Ignacio Labarta, received an even lighter punishment. Spanish law means that neither man will spend time in jail. Fuentes claimed that the blood transfusions used to dope were conducted in safe conditions. Many people disagreed with this viewpoint, with ex-clients and cyclists Jorg Jaksche and Jesús Manzano strongly opposing Fuentes. The pair of them claimed that the transfusions were conducted in dangerous conditions, often in hotel rooms after being stored in household fridges.

Fuentes has been embroiled for some time with doping in cycling, a sport which has suffered badly from the cheating. He was mainly involved with blood doping, supplying the majority of road cyclists. However, before the Operación Puerto court case, people widely believed that the doping was isolated to cycling.

Fuentes’ only official football employer was UD Las Palmas. In his time at the Canary Islands based club, Los Amarillos were promoted from the Segunda División to the Primera in the 2000-2001 season.

Fuentes has been previously quoted, by, as saying in December 2010: “If I would talk, the Spanish football team would be stripped of the 2010 World Cup”. This quotation should be taken very seriously, and casts huge doubts over Spanish successes. Spain’s game often is based on tireless pressing to win possession back. The link to the article is here, and according to the article the quotation originates from Marca:

The pass-master defends his side

Xavi, one of the main men in Spain’s successes, angrily responded: “I am really sad that these kinds of things (allegations) occur at the level of the Spanish sport “, he said according to ‘Marca’. “In relation to football, I can assure you that there is no kind of doping, we won the World [Cup] with the certainty of not having been doped.” He continued: “We are quiet on this side, there is no problem.”

Last April, Fuentes, confirming Xavi’s response, revealed in an interview with Marca that he had not treated any “player of the Spanish national team”. He did however, state that he had worked for “big” clubs in La Liga but would not reveal the clubs due to “death threats”. With Fuentes playing games with the media, and contradicting his previous statements, he surely cannot be trusted.

Le Monde journalist Stéphane Mandard wrote in December 2006 that there was a link between FC Barcelona and Fuentes. Barcelona sued the paper for being libellous. A lower court ruled Le Monde to pay €300,000 and to publish the ruling on its online and paper publications. Le Monde appealed and the fine was lowered by the Barcelona provincial court. The need for the publication of the sentence was also withdrawn, as the paper had published FC Barcelona’s version of the story. On the 15th November 2011, the Spanish Supreme court upheld Barcelona’s provincial court’s decision, ignoring the paper’s final appeal. The French newspaper Le Monde had to pay €15,000 in damages to FC Barcelona. The court condemned the paper for damaging Barcelona’s honour.

Libellous comments made

Later, Fuentes leaked to the press that Real Madrid owed him money. Madrid quickly cited that their apparent ‘debt’ related to the Barcelona-Le Monde incident. Real Betis and Valencia were also mentioned in the 2006 article. While the article is now considered completely false, journalist Mandard is still adamant that the article was based on evidence shown to him by Fuentes.

As well as the quartet-of Barcelona, Real Betis, Real Madrid and Valencia-another Spanish club was linked with Fuentes. In January, Iñaki Badiola, the former Real Sociedad president, claimed that Fuentes had worked with Real Sociedad before his reign, in an interview with paper ‘AS’. This led El Pais, Spain’s most popular daily paper, to publish documents which they alleged showed the use of Fuentes’ services, from the years 2000-2005, by Sociedad. Then Sociedad president, José Luis Astiazarán, released a statement denying the claims. Astiazarán is now president of the Liga de Fútbol Profesional, or the LFP- the association which represents the top two Spanish leagues.

Astiazarán is now president of the LFP

Barcelona and Valencia were again linked with doping, this time by Cadena Cope Radio in March 2011. The radio station reported that Real Madrid were going to demand much stricter doping tests from the Spanish Federation. The said Madrid wanted these stricter tests as Barcelona and Valencia were utilising doctors with a “questionable reputation”. Barcelona and Valencia, not surprisingly, reacted very angrily to the claim. They threatened Cope with legal action and Cope was forced into an apology. In their apology, Cope claimed that the source of their report was someone at “very high board level at Real Madrid”. Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez denied that he was the source; in a phone call to Barcelona president Sandro Rosell. “The question about doping is not for me, it’s for Radio Cope and Mr Florentino Pérez” said then Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola: “I say Florentino because he’s the person responsible for the institution that Cope cited as the source of their story. He’s the president of that club not the kit man.” Then Valencia player, now free-agent, David Albelda attacked Pérez: “The doping theory is without foundation and is a way to justify their failures. It’s indicative of someone who makes huge investments and then fails to achieve the expected results.” Why were only Barcelona and Valencia targeted though? Why didn’t Perez target inter-city rivals Atlético Madrid also? As is often the case with allegations of doping in football, lots of speculative questions are asked as there is no real foundation to the allegations or statements.

Later, Badiola told “In 2008 our board publicly denounced the doctors Eduardo Escobar and Antxon Gorrotxategi because in the six seasons before us (when Jose Luis Astiazaran was president in 2001-2005, Miguel Fuentes in 2005-2007, and Juan Larzabal in 2007-2008) they gave payments for medicines or products which, at the time, were classified as doping.” He added: “They acquired substances which were not authorised. In my years, 2008 and 2009, there were no strange medical practices. We did an audit of the previous six years.” It is strange that no governing body realised that Sociedad were buying banned substances. Sociedad themselves had to reveal the truth.
Operación Puerto was the code name for the Police investigation against Fuentes’ doping network. In the court case, Fuentes made more astonishing claims. He stated that he had worked with numerous and high profile athletes, boxers, footballers and tennis players. This had previously never been stated under oath or made as widely public. The court case also further highlighted potential dodgy occurrences at Sociedad. Some blood transfusion bags were coded with “RSOC”.

Xabi Prieto, one of Sociedad’s best players, responded to questions by neither confirming nor denying the claims, “no substance helps you put the ball in the net”, he said. That belief is roughly held by Badiola, “I think in football doping may not be as necessary as, for example, in cycling.” He does, while saying “It’s not necessary to succeed”, believe that “with so much competition and so much money, the temptation to get the most out of an athlete is high”.

Prieto really highlights the commonly held belief that doping in football would have a limited effect. Prieto is wrong when he says “no substance helps you put the ball in the net”. Firstly, some performance enhancing drugs can give athletes stronger muscles, such as anabolic steroids. This would enable them to shoot more powerfully, thus increasing the likelihood that they beat the goalkeeper. Some drugs can also calm players down, increasing their composure in front of goal and making it more likely for the player to score. Football, which is becoming increasingly fast-paced with quick counter attacks, demands high levels of stamina. Drugs like EPO would helps players make explosive runs forward, helping them to attack quicker. The effect would be similar to the one EPO has in cycling. Recently disgraced Lance Armstrong’s cycling style was based on bursts of speed, with rapid attacks to the front. EPO would also help players defend better against teams, helping them to press quicker and press longer.

Prieto is wrong

Ex-Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz was suspended for sixth months from the national team job after insulting anti-doping investigators. Portugal’s sports institute ruled that he had disrupted an anti-doping test conducted before the 2010 World Cup. The institute stated that Queiroz had been foul mouthed towards the investigators and his aggressive behaviour was a large contributing factor in the disruption. It is said that the coach was expressing his anger at having his players’ rest time disturbed. Queiroz was then subsequently sacked by the Portuguese Federation. Later, the Court of Arbitration for Sport lifted Queiroz’s ban for insulting anti-doping agents, enabling the Portuguese to coach immediately. The angry outburst from Queiroz hints that coaches do not seem to realise the importance of doping tests, and that the tests must happen at any time.

Back to the Puerto court case; and Fuentes made another intriguing claim, saying: “I could identify all the samples [of blood]. If you give me a list I could tell you who corresponds to each code on the [blood] packs”. Fuentes also offered to reveal the names of all the remaining clients he had helped by doping. The judge, Julia Santamaria, told Fuentes that there was no need. Further frustration, for the people who wanted to see the cheats named, was issued when Santamaria ordered for all of the evidence gathered in Operación Puerto to be destroyed.

There is a sliver of hope for football’s integrity though. A possible post-trial investigation could be conducted on the 211 bags of blood taken from 35 still anonymous people. The World Anti-Doping Agency and the Spanish Anti-Doping agency (AEA) both want to indentify the guilty individuals. Judge Santamaria ruled this as breaking Spanish privacy law, but both agencies are determined. Ana Muñoz, the director of the AEA, promised to “bring the dark aspects into the light”.

Football clearly needs to change in light of these allegations. If the guilty individuals are not revealed then this will be a major blow. However, as Badiola says, improvements need to be made to the current anti-doping system: “The system is poorly regulated, there is a failure and doping is way ahead, with doctors who can cover it up perfectly. There are urine tests which does not seek EPO, which denotes a neglect and an unwillingness to clean up this sport.”

Badiola is a very useful source of info

In this article, by Ouriel Daskal, there is an interview with a former member of the World Anti-Doping Agency. One of the shocking quotations is this:
(Daskal)‘“And are there drugs that can’t be detected?”
(Former member) “Yes, we are afraid so. Some of the drugs are based on gene research and stem cell research. I am afraid our most advanced technology can’t detect them.”’
This is best explained by more evidence from the interview, with the former member revealing: “Our budget is $30million, while the f****** pharmaceutical industry we are working against is worth hundreds of billions. It’s a lost battle” Daskal should be regarded as a highly reliable
source. He contributes to the Blizzard; a popular football quarterly.

Adding to Badiola’s point, Maradona’s method of tricking the anti-doping system reflects how easy it is to avoid the out of date and poor system. As mentioned previously, Maradona started taking cocaine roughly 8 years before his positive test. The way Maradona passed the tests, despite being full of coke, was by taking a small pump and filling it with someone else’s urine. He would put the pump inside his tracksuit, filling the test jar with the urine inside the pump. Carrado Ferlaino, Napoli president at the time, revealed: “He was saved that way many times”. Ferlaino admitted that “Diego could do whatever he wanted, but he had to be clean by Thursday”. This also shows that some clubs are willing to ignore player’s bad habits as long as they play well.

Finally tested postive at Napoli

Louis van Gaal, when questioned on Davids and de Boer failing their drugs tests responded: “I’m sure that football isn’t free of drugs and sometimes I have my doubts”. He was serving his first stint as coach of the Dutch national team at the time of the interview.

Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo was quoted as saying by AS: “It’s a very delicate situation, but I don’t think there is doping in football”. He continued, saying: “It’s a collective sport and I don’t think it’s necessary to resort to doping to improve your performances. But I can’t swear that no-one has done it.” He then contradicted his first statement: “Is football a clean sport? Yes, 100 per cent. I don’t think these types of things exist.”

Spain manager Vicente del Bosque answered questions on the subject of doping with a slightly ruffled “I have never seen it, nor as a player or coach,” he responded. “I prefer to be an innocent than to think it exists. I prefer to avoid the subject.” The president of the Spanish FA, Ángel María Villar, was also asked about the subject. “Thanks be to God, there is no doping,” he said in an interview with El Pais, in February. “Well very little, so little that the cases given are just an anecdote to an anecdote”. That isn’t very assuring or convincing, from the head of the FA which has been accused of doping to history-breaking successes.

Fuentes’ blood transfusions, guilty verdict and wild claims will tinge the rosy view of Spanish football, and perhaps football in general. Let us hope that doping tests become more frequent and rigorous, and that the cases of doping occurring are very low. People will start to grow cynical at any footballer who performs brilliantly, just like the effect doping has had in baseball or cycling, for example.

Please take strong action Sepp

FIFA need to get to the bottom of this before it is too late. A worldwide investigation should be launched, but the money, organisation and resources which would be required would be monumental. Sepp Blatter talks about transparency in football a lot. The Fuentes case, while revealing elements of the truth, is still a smoking gun. With a lack of clarity and “transparency” regarding doping, it is inevitable that innuendos and pre-judgements will be made before the whole evidence is revealed. Blatter has already started planning his next FIFA presidential campaign. If Blatter were to start a big clamp-down on doping in football, it would boost his popularity rating, while also stopping accusations and miss-interpretations. Hopefully this will encourage him to investigate the issue. One thing is certain though; football needs to be saved from the dark side of the beautiful game.


Thank you to Paulo Freitas for helping me with the Carlos Alberto and Deco cases

2 thoughts on “Doping in football-including Fuentes’ role in the dark side of the beautiful game

    1. Thanks Pritesh, the feedback is much appreciated. I think that it’s still possible for some of the unknown cheats to be revealed, fingers crossed! Please could you follow my blog 🙂

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