Negative results

The investigation took six years, but Juventus’s doctor has just been convicted of doping players. Matt Barker wonders if the 1990s record books will be rewritten

Having cake-walked qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League and with the side sitting comfortably in pole position in Serie A, this is shaping up to be a vintage season for Juventus, under new coach Fabio Capello. But the findings and verdict of a recent anti-doping inquest threaten to taint the club’s image. The investigation was prompted by the comments of Zdenek Zeman, a former Roma, Lazio and Napoli coach, now at Lecce. In a 1998 magazine interview, the Czech declared it was “time for Italian football to come out of the pharmacy”, pointing the finger at Juve in particular and talking of a process that had “started with [Gianluca] Vialli and has arrived finally with [Alessandro] Del Piero”.

Zeman’s remarks caused uproar (Vialli branded him a terrorist and a mafia-sympathiser), but were trea­ted as sufficiently serious as to warrant a full in­quiry overseen by Raffaele Guariniello, a Turin law­yer. Now, six years later, club doctor Riccardo Agricola has been found guilty of supplying performance-enhancing drugs, namely erythropoietin (EPO), to Juventus players from 1994 to 1998. During that four-year period the club won three scudettos and beat Ajax in the 1996 Champions League final, then qualified for the next two finals, too.

Agricola has been given a 22-month conditional sentence, while chief executive Antonio Giraudo was cleared of any wrongdoing – a verdict seen by Juventus as proof of the club’s innocence. Giraudo hailed the decision as a “victory for our fans” and promised the bianconeri would stick by Agricola: “He is and will remain the Juventus doctor.” The club are to appeal against the sentence, a process that won’t even begin until April 2007. But there’s a palpable sense of relief at the club’s Turin HQ, a belief that things can go back to normal and that the matter is now con­cluded.

Giraudo’s argument, that med­­ical staff worked in­depen­­­dently of the club’s hier­­archy, is just plain daft. Investigators found 281 dif­ferent types of drugs at the Juventus training cen­tre – enough, as Gaz­­zetta dello Sport pointed out, to run a small hospital. In his testimony, Del Piero re­called be­ing given ten col­oured pills before a game. Other play­­ers told of being ad­ministered doses of creatine at half-time. Surely someone at the club would have been curious as to what was going on; of who was taking what and why?

The fallout and finger-pointing be­gan almost immediately, though so far clubs with a potential interest in com­pensation claims have been quiet (the official Ajax word on the 1996 final is that no action will be taken, though Louis van Gaal and Zeman believe the result should be declared void and the trophy awarded to the Dutch). How­­ever, Turin magistrates are planning to prosecute a number of players for providing false testimonies during the original hearings. Juve stars past and present were called to give evidence during the investigation and quickly tagged the “I-don’t-know-ers” by a sceptical press. Roberto Baggio claimed he couldn’t remember that far back, while Uruguayan defensive hardman Paolo Montero had an attack of the jitters and asked to be excused from mak­ing a statement because there were “too many people” in the courtroom.

The magistrates are particularly interested in talk­ing to Marcello Lippi again. The then Juve coach’s original statement was that he saw drips being ad­ministered to his players, but never thought to ask what was going on. Lippi also admitted that the club had doled out three grammes of creatine a day to playing staff, but has since claimed in a book that the doses were closer to 20g. One football medical expert said he was approached by an anonymous Serie A player, believed by many to be in the Juventus side, anxious to know the potential side-effects of regular EPO usage.

Meanwhile, the war of words between Zeman and Juve continues: a recent live television encounter saw a heated exchange with Lippi that ended with Ze­man’s promise to “change the system from the inside”. Fol­lowing the declaration by sports minister Girolamo Sirchia that the problem of doping is “widespread”, a nervous Roma have con­fessed to giving muscle-en­hancing Voltaren to players, and random EPO-testing is to be reintroduced in January.

From WSC 215 January 2005. What was happening this month