Did you know that Pep Guardiola was embroiled in a doping scandal in 2001?

Pep Guardiola won all major trophies during his 11 years at FC Barcelona

The footballing world prefers to turn a blind eye to the issue of doping. Coaches and players contend that football is a game of technique and tactics where there is no place for doping.

“Drugs don’t make you pass better”, is a common justification given by officials in the footballing world whenever they are questioned about a lack of stringent doping policies in the game.

However, in football, where physical ability is a defining factor in a player’s performance, such arguments seem completely ludicrous and out of place. Having the same physical conditions and coordination abilities in the last ten minutes of the game as in the 3rd minute due to substance abuse gives a footballer player a great advantage over his opponents.

The Nandrolone doping scandal of 2001

Since the inception of the game, numerous footballers from Maradona to Zico have confessed to the use of banned substances to enhance their performance and endurance during the 90 minutes.

One such high-profile case was the nandrolone doping affair of 2001 and 2002. Numerous footballers such as Edgar Davids, Jaap Stam, Frank de Boer, and Josep Guardiola among others tested positive for the banned substance.

Nandrolone is an anabolic steroid which increases the growth of certain tissues in the body and has been shown to improve the oxygen-carrying ability of blood by increasing haemoglobin and the size of red blood cells.

In the summer of 2001, Pep Guardiola left Barcelona with numerous trophies and an abysmal disciplinary record to ply his trade with Brescia in Serie A.

A few months into his stay in Italy, the Spaniard tested positive for the steroid nandrolone following a 5-0 defeat to Lazio. The current Bayern Munich coach had been found with the drug in his system after a league match against Piacenza two weeks prior to the Lazio defeat.

Despite vehemently protesting his innocence, Guardiola received a four-month ban for his involvement in doping.

Another startling revelation was the fact that Guardiola’s doctor at Brescia, Ramon Segura, worked as the head doctor for FC Barcelona during Pep’s reign at the club. In addition, Segura was also treating Frank DeBoer in 2001 and 2002 when the Dutchman was caught doping with the same banned substance.

Guardiola and the others argued that the presence of the banned substance in their blood was due to the consumption of contaminated supplements. Many of the players accused served short bans and got on with their careers.

On 23 October 2007, after a lapse of six years, Guardiola was cleared of all charges that had led to the ban. CONI (Italian National Olympic Committee), however, reopened the case against the Spaniard, because it considered the argumentation of the absolution unacceptable, but he was cleared once again on 29 September 2009.

The Dutch trio of Edgar Davids, Jaap Stam and De Boer all tested positive for nandrolone

Doping in the modern game

Doping can be beneficial for a number of purposes like heightening concentration, developing muscle mass, recovery after a physically contested match and for the healing of an injury.

Despite these benefits, footballers who want to use performance enhancing drugs face relatively low risks, compared to athletes in other sports. Footballers and clubs have more money available, making doping a relatively cheap investment.

Former Manchester City midfielder Joey Barton gave his comments on the lack of stringent doping measures in the game following a confession by seven-time Tour de France winning cyclist Lance Armstrong, in an article on his website.

“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!

Finally, I have never had a hair sample taken. I didn’t know of this procedure until writing this piece and forgive me if I am wrong but doesn’t the hair hold on to the use of substances for a lot longer than urine or blood?”

There is little evidence to suggest doping is still prevalent in the modern game.

The most recent case was of 24-year-old Dinamo Zagreb player Arijan Ademi, who failed a doping test in his side’s 2-1 win over Arsenal (September) in the UEFA Champions League. There were also reports of doping by Barcelona players as recently as 3 years back, although those reports ultimately proved to be false.

Reports of doping by Iraqi player midfielder Alla Abdulzehra, as alleged by Iranian officials, were also dismissed by AFC's disciplinary committee.

It is high time for football’s governing body FIFA to enforce stringent anti - doping policies to punish the rats who take the gamble, and Barton’s next statement pretty much sums this up.

“Its better to be a lion for a day, then a rat for a lifetime. If you were a rat and someone offered you the chance to become a lion, would you take the gamble?”

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