Drugs in football? Pull the other one

Off the Ball is an Irish radio show which airs at 7 O’Clock on Newstalk every weeknight. They cover most all sports and it’s a very entertaining show which regularly features big name guests.

Paul Kimmage often features, as does Nicolas Roche and they’ve even had UCI President Pat McQuaid on from time to time (although he refuses to appear on air at the same time as Kimmage).

Earlier this week, I was listening to the show as they were previewing the Bayer Leverkusen vs Barcelona match in the UEFA Champion’s League. As usual when discussing all things Barcelona, they had Scottish journalist Graham Hunter on as a guest.

Graham Hunter – loves Barcelona

Now Hunter might not be to everyone’s liking. He seems to get offended if anyone dares utter a negative word against Barcelona and he has regularly had on-air altercations with the show’s co-host Ken Early.

He has become so embedded with Barcelona and their to-defeat-us-is-an-insult-to-football attitude , that his objectivity must be questioned. But in general, he is a respected journalist who also regularly appears on Sky Sports discussing Spanish football.

But before the Leverkusen game on Tuesday, he was asked about midfield playmaker Xavi’s participation in the match and he said the following:


So Xavi, one of the world’s best players regularly takes growth hormones, and Hunter didn’t seem bothered. He quickly moved on to discuss the form of Barcelona defender Gerard Pique.

Dr. Muller-Wohlfahrt uses ‘homeopathic’ methods

The Bayern Munich doctor that Hunter mentions is Dr. Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt. He is a controversial doctor who has been responsible for administering some controversial treatments such as injecting crushed pieces of the fleshy pink comb on a cockerel’s head into England cricket captain Michael Vaughan and injecting goat’s blood into sprinter Usain Bolt and England footballers Michael Owen and Steven Gerrard (among others).

This guy is football’s Eufemiano Fuentes.

But where are all the websites picking up this story? Where is the public outcry that Xavi, a player who has won all of the game’s major trophies in the last four years, is on drugs?

This past week has admittedly, been very bad for the image of cycling. The cases of three Tour de France winners all came to a head. Alberto Contador was banned for ‘two years’ and stripped of results, Jan Ullrich was also banned for ‘two years’ and stripped of results while the investigation into Lance Armstrong was dropped as the Texan remains as elusive as ever.

Mainstream media reporting on these stories I can understand, they are mainstream stories involving some of the cycling’s biggest ever names and cycling’s biggest race.

Football, football and more football

But why then do Sky Sports News feel the need to report on, for example, the disqualification of French track rider Gregory Baugé? They never think to report on Baugé when he wins a race.The only cycling related news that ever makes the headlines on this channel are when Team Sky win, or when someone (anyone) tests positive.

Sky Sports News spend about 45 minutes of every hour reporting on football. That’s over 30 hours of coverage (and counting) since Hunter revealed this information about Xavi taking growth hormones. Needless to say, they did not mention this revelation amongst their bloated, tiresome coverage of the UEFA Champion’s League, a trophy which Xavi won last year, as captain of Barcelona.

Earlier this year, a German T.V. show revealed that the winner of today’s stage of the Tour of Oman Marcel Kittel had undergone a blacklight treated blood transfusion. Kittel was forced to answer all sorts of doping-related questions. His Team 1T4i were also obliged to respond to the allegations (which they did so in an admirably diplomatic fashion).

Kittel described the experience as a nightmare and the worst day of his life. Xavi has experienced absolutely none of what Kittel went through.

The audio snippet above is akin to a cycling journalist such as Lionel Birnie revealing on a national radio show that he knows for a fact that Mark Cavendish takes EPO, but then move swiftly along to discuss Geraint Thomas’s qualities as a lead-out man.

But this is not cycling. This is football.

So nobody cares.



  1. Jonathan - February 16, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

    And what happened to all the footballers and tennis player(s) who were also caught up in Puerto eh? And didn’t they have Messi – world’s greatest footballer (TM) – on growth hormones because he’s so ickle?

  2. Colin - February 16, 2012 @ 2:39 pm

    Edgar Davids was done for Nandrolone going back a few years ago wasn’t he…? Has drug use suddenly become acceptable in football now…? I’d rather have cycling, warts and all, over those overpaid prima donna footballers…!

  3. andy mcgibbon - February 16, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

    Yessss, great article. theres nothing more I’d love to than to stick two fingers up to those beer swilling, fat, so called sports fans. I’ve been beating this drum for ages myself, hopefully the mainstream press will pick up the story but I doubt it.

  4. Irish Peloton - February 16, 2012 @ 2:44 pm

    And don’t forget Guardiola himself has also tested positive for nandrolone in the past (although was retroactively cleared).

  5. harry adams - February 16, 2012 @ 4:42 pm

    No real surprise here. Back in 2009 hair samples from 138 sportsmen and women were tested for traces of steroids. Steroid traces can remain in the hair for months but the hair testing procedure is not practised by anti doping agencies. Of the 138 tested, 32 were professional footballers from the French first and second divisions. 22% tested positive for steroids, the highest positive rate among all the sports represented. Also if you look at UK AntiDoping’s annual reports since 2000 the sport that consistently comes top for positive dope tests is rugby.

  6. Irish Peloton - February 16, 2012 @ 5:08 pm

    Interesting. Got a link for that info Harry?

    The sporting governing bodies just aren’t interested in policing their sports. UCI only do it because their hand has been forced so many times by police intervening, Festina, Puerto etc.

  7. Kieran - February 16, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

    Everton won league in 1950’s using amphetimines. Check out the great Juve team in 90’s – cabinets of drugs found incld EPO. Davids, Zidane, Del Piero all in club and denied knowledge. Good article here – http://thelongballtactic.wordpress.com/tag/epo/

  8. Don - February 17, 2012 @ 12:47 pm

    Graham Hunter apparently knows nothing about medicine. “Growth hormones” has nothing to do with PRP (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Platelet-rich_plasma) which is the actual treatment Barcelona players and other top sportsmen take these days. PRP is deemed not a doping substance. He’s definitely misleading the audience.


    Doping in football, NBA, etc… I’m sure there is, and it definitely should be investigated!

  9. harry adams - February 18, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

    My source was The Independent (English daily paper) in a report by John Lichfield, Thursday 19th March 2009.

  10. harry adams - February 18, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

    Some governing bodies take a relaxed, even naive , approach to drug taking. I remember back in 2004 British tennis player Greg Rusedski tested positive for nandrolone. He was given a short ban but complained that he was being made a scapegoat and that 47 out of the top 120 players in men’s tennis had tested positive. At the time they all claimed that they had unknowingly taken contaminated supplements. Sound familiar? No further action was taken. Similarly in the autumn of 2010, two South African rugby players tested positive for methylhexaneamine, a banned substance, after one of the autumn internationals. The SA rugby authorities set up an enquiry and, having been told by the players that they must have inadvertantly taken contaminated supplements, which had actually been provided by the SA rugby authorities, no further action was taken.

  11. Laurens - February 20, 2012 @ 4:08 pm

    Don’t you folks listen to Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s don?
    Football is a technical team sport, so doping does not make sense and thus it does not happen. And because of that, it’s not even necessary to do some proper testing.

    Seriously, I see the decision to dope as an economic dilemma. The athlete has to weigh the chances of getting caught and the consequences of being caught against the pay-off of improving his performance by means of prohibited substances and/or methods. Whoever knows the salaries being paid in football should be easily capable of doing the maths.

    Of course football is rotten, and sooner or later this festering crap will burst open. And then it will be the same as with the salaries: Professional cyclists will be considered little sidekicks of the true giants. Only that it’s giants of doping then.

    Oh, btw: Thank you for mentioning Dr. Müller Wohlfahrt, and was that again with goat blood and Usain Bolt?

  12. Ponckster - February 20, 2012 @ 8:05 pm

    I’ve just been told by a Dutch journalist in Barcelona Xavi’s had ‘growth factors’, not growth hormones.. I’m waiting on a link, or anything relating to it. Spent all afternoon fuming about the hypocrisy of the whole thing, so it better be good. But it does sounds like it could be the infamous actovegin we’re talking about here,

    Doesn’t take away from the fact that if it was cycling, there would be a big uproar..

  13. Irish Peloton - February 20, 2012 @ 9:50 pm

    @harry Thanks for that. I wonder what’s happened to the other 150 or so names in the Operation Puerto files who weren’t cyclists?

    @Laurens Not sure whether Bolt actually received calves blood injections (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/othersports/article-2100723/Usain-Bolt-visits-Hans-Muller-Wohlfahrt.html), but there are plenty of doctors in other parts of the world which could have administered more orthodox treatments. Why the trip to Germany?

    @Ponckster ‘Growth factors’ sounds suspiciously vague regardless. I’d be very interested to know if you hear any more back from them.

  14. Ponckster - February 20, 2012 @ 10:01 pm

    He told me to google “xavi factores crecimiento”. Unfortunately my Spanish is non existent. The WADA website however does mention ‘growth factors’.
    So I guess it all depends on which growth factors we’re talking about…

    But as I said before, even if he didn’t technically dope, the lack of news reports or even just plain old gossip we here about this is amazing.

  15. Deneel - February 20, 2012 @ 10:02 pm

    Veron in Cannavaro video
    April 29, 2005
    Argentina and Inter Milan midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron said he appeared in the film in which his former Parma team mate Fabio Cannavaro is seen using a drip on the eve of the 1999 UEFA Cup final.
    “You can see me, I was in the room,” Veron told an Argentine radio station. “But you can’t see that I did anything.”
    The film, shown on Italian state broadcaster RAI Due’s current affairs programme “Full Stop and From the Top”, shows Cannavaro, then a Parma player, relaxing in his hotel room the evening before the UEFA Cup final against Olympique Marseille in Moscow which the Italian club won 3-0.
    The Italian international, who now plays for Juventus, is shown inserting a drip into his arm which his lawyer confirmed contained Neoton, a drug used in cardiac surgery to protect the heart that is not on the World Anti Doping Agency’s list of banned substances.
    Veron said Neoton use is common. “It’s used when there are a lot of matches in a short space of time and it helps you recover more quickly,” he said.
    “We had just played the final of the Italian Cup, I think it was two or three days earlier, plus there was the journey to Russia. Some players decided to make use of this, which is also something the doctor knows about.”
    Veron, who is now on the books of English premier league side Chelsea but has been on loan to Inter Milan all season, added: “All the teams use it. “It is something that is used and has been used and to do so is firstly a decision of the player and then the doctor.”
    He said the video did not make pleasant viewing. “It doesn’t look good because you see when the doctor pricks his arm and it’s not something which is nice to see. Also, the television puts on that background music and a whole ambiance which has nothing to do with it.”

  16. Ponckster - February 20, 2012 @ 10:07 pm

    O, and Bolt travelling to Germany? If we are talking about Actovegin, it could be because it’s not FDA approved. It’s actually illegal in a lot of countries. But apparently not in Germany, Austria and a few other places.

  17. Deneel - February 20, 2012 @ 10:08 pm

    All growth factors are forbidden. IgF1 is a growth factor used in insulin. I did a report called Confidential on Eurosport in which a doctor admits Messi was threaded with growth hormon and Barcelona paid for this treatment. The Argentin was to small growth hormon would make him taller.
    So what is doping and not that is up to the authorities.

  18. Ponckster - February 20, 2012 @ 10:30 pm


    It would be nice to have one authority though. So we can judge all sports by the same rules..

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    Attractive component to content. I just stumbled upon your website and in accession capital to assert that I get actually loved account your blog posts. Anyway I will be subscribing in your augment and even I achievement you get admission to persistently rapidly.

  20. Irish Peloton - February 21, 2012 @ 10:17 am

    Michel Platini seems to think there is no problem…


    “Barcelona and Real Madrid have won the European Cup and there is no doping”

  21. Velonavia - February 21, 2012 @ 10:28 am

    Since the money involved in cycling is just peanuts compared to football there´s a lot of people monetizing from the lack of anti-doping work in the sport…

  22. mike scofield - February 21, 2012 @ 1:31 pm


    Everton were ‘drugged Champions’ in the mid 60’s rather than the 50’s. My oldest mate from school, calls them that to this day. Admittedly he was a Spurs fan then & they were Evertons top rivals at the time, but its been well documented since the 1970’s.

  23. Stephen Salmon - February 21, 2012 @ 2:00 pm

    Slightly off the subject, Dan Martin tweeted no dope controls at his last 2 races. Last year Vaughters said he thought the fight against doping in cycling was losing momentum. I hope this is not a sign of things to come. It would be devestating!

  24. harry adams - February 21, 2012 @ 2:14 pm

    here’s a site always worth reading

  25. Michael Holland - February 21, 2012 @ 3:52 pm

    I couldn’t care less what other sports do! that’s their business! Cycling’s business is to clean itself up or at least try, blaming others is what a 5 yr old does, it gets us no where.
    Cycling at the end of the day is,and has been dirty since its inception as a competitive sport. Its so gruelling it automatically lends itself to cheating, I mean 3 weeks, 100miles + per day around France for approx 400K for the winner????? its for the foolhardy in my humble opinion!
    I think its time we thought outside the box for solutions rather than play the blame game.
    I may or may not be right but thats my opinion

  26. DeSqueran - February 22, 2012 @ 2:41 pm

    A few Spaniards -especially we evil, perverse, fascist madridistas- have noticed long ago that Barcelona players show terrific pace, strength and endurance. That’s amazing, since they are supposed to be “tiny little passing players”, not robust warriors like, say, Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Spanish journalists, always unbiased, first replied: “They do not make such an effort: it’s the ball that runs“. Later, they were forced to admit: “They do run a lot, but only in short efforts, because they are always well placed on the field”.

    Do not even try to suggest to Spanish journos that certain Barça players could be on drugs: they will be outraged. And not only for their Barça, but for the Spanish national team too. To doubt Barça players means being accused of anti-patriotism.

  27. paul - February 22, 2012 @ 8:36 pm

    He (german dr.) also worked with s.roche,as interviewed in roches’ dvd.

  28. t85sg - February 22, 2012 @ 11:39 pm

    Only a few appreciations to the comments in here:

    First of all, I agree with the general statement of this blog entry. Sports World, in terms of doping, is not measuring cycling the same way as Football, Tennis, Basketball or other sports. And there are more examples for Doping Practices in Football than the tiny ones supposedly related to Barcelona. Talk about the Great Squad of Fiorentina of the 70ies and the players of the same team who suffered cancers and other illnesses. To put a name on the list: Bruno Beatrice. You will find a lot of links related to that case.

    Now to the details: I think the comparison between Müller-Wohlfahrt and Eufemiano is a bit unfortunate. You are comparing a doctor with some reputation in Sports Medicine with a gynaecologist who tried his luck with Sports. If you want to compare, then put Conconi and the University of Ferrara or Heinrich and his Team from University of Freiburg am Breisgau.

    The other point I want to remark is that the Journalist confounded the treatment used by Barcelona Doctors with Xavi. It is a fact that Xavi was treated with what in spanish is called “plasma enriquecido” or Plasma Rich in Growth Factors. I found an article in Wiki describing this treatment, so I offer it to the experts to analyze it, because I am definitely not an expert in that materia:

    And a third point I want to remark: @DeSqueran: Do not try to put some “bias” in this discussion, because no squad in Spain or Top Squad in Europe would finish clean. Real Madrid had also “dubious” doctors in his Portfolio, such as Antonio Escribano and his magic “Papillas”, Marcos Maynar and his “defense” of Athletic Bilbao Player Gurpegi such as his analysis of Real Madrid player’s values. Even Valencia used the services of Walter Virú, ex-Kelme Team Doctor. And I don’t think I have to talk about Sabino Padilla and his job as Athletic Bilbao Team Doctor…Even the Special One, Mr. José Mourinho, worked with Bryan English during his Chelsea years…Furthermore: How can a Team that begun their Pre-Season-Work 3 weeks earlier than the rest of the top teams be physically that strong during such a long time, while other European Teams (the “supposed” doped Barcelona included) are struggling in January/February? Only Water and Bread? Or the “miracles” of The Special One?

  29. paul - February 23, 2012 @ 1:03 am

    I watched a bbc 2 programme about 6 yrs ago . Three-parter it was, about scottish managers(shankly,stein,busby). Testimony (repeated) how shanks had pill placed in front of player n if no consume, no play. Speed.

  30. DeSqueran - February 25, 2012 @ 9:03 pm


    Heaven forbid that I “try to put some bias in this discussion”: if the Spanish press/propaganda has taught us anything, it is that Real Madrid are suspect by definition. We are, more or less, evil incarnate; and we are cool with it.

    I just point out that the play of F.C.Barcelona is not only based on passing, but also on a tremendous physical effort. An effort that: a) is almost never recognised by any journo; and b) is odd at best, given the tiny frame of F.C.Barcelona players.

    Spanish journos go along the lines of Blatter (as Laurens says): “F.C.Barcelona [or the Spanish national team] are a technical side, so doping does not make sense and thus it does not happen”.

    F.C.Barcelona doctors are indeed efficient: we all remember how Abidal (“¡ànims, Abi!”) recovered from a seemingly serious disease -one that, by the way, is not completely unrelated to doping- in a record time, and was back to play in the same season. This revolutionary treatment that F.C.Barcelona doctors apply to Xavi is actually questionable.

    Messi himself has to thank those doctors for his physical development -he is, one could say, “a lab player”-, and Guardiola, the saintly Guardiola, had a positive for nandrolone. But, at least in Spain, F.C.Barcelona’s heavenly aura remains intact.

  31. DeSqueran - February 25, 2012 @ 9:08 pm

    This is the link I meant.

  32. t85sg - February 27, 2012 @ 9:48 pm


    The Evil incarnate? How long are you following Spanish Football? Since Mourinho landed in Madrid? Come on, sympathies in Spanish Football switch in a 5 years rhythm, depending on which Club is successful at that time. The Real Madrid of the Galacticos and before La Quinta del Buitre used to have a lot of sympathies outside of Madrid. And even with the last Liga title of Schuster, a lot of people preferred a victory of Real and not of the arrogants Ronaldinho and co.

    Second: You tell me about physical effort. I don’t want to defend any Football Club, but now tell me how Real Madrid can be so physically strong this year to overrun any team in February having key players like Di María Khedira and Benzema injured over some long periods and others like Özil and Higuaín not really in good shape? Only with Mourinho’s magical bread and water? If you really want to suspect, then put all arguments on the table, not only the ones you like from your biased POV.

    Third: About Spanish Journalists: Ask COPE Journos about Barça and Doping.

    Fourth: The “revolutionary treatment” with Xavi is not that revolutionary as you mean. Try Googling some names like Müller-Wohlfarth or Bryan English…Oh wait, the latter is related to Mourinho, so it’s an invalid argument, right? About Abidal’s tumor i do not want to comment more that I have a case with lever cancer in my family, also a sportsman, but not on a elite level. Also related to Doping?

    Fifth: Messi is a Lab Player, and what is Ronaldo? A “Wonder” of Human Creation, only trained with water, rice and bread who can runs like 60 games for 90 minutes without notorious injuries for 6 years? Try to put your Goggles off…

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  34. RayoPhil - October 21, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

    I’m beginning to have doubts over the cleanliness of top level football, I’m 30 so I’ve not been watching football for that long compared to others. But since roughly 2005-2006 onwards the athleticism of the top players especially in Spain seems to have increased massively, the way the ball is closed down and the opposition are pressed constantly is a very tiring activity but these teams seem to be doing it game after game.

    I don’t doubt that they are technically excellent but so were many of the top Spanish players I grew up watching, like Raul, Luis Enrique, Pep himself etc, Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna had a load of promising Spanish players and they excelled in the Champions League. But physically they fell short, apart from guys like Joaquin there wasn’t much pace and it was a more controlled slow pace of football, Hector Cuper and Rafa’s Valencia as an example were solid organised and defensive. Then all of sudden something has happened in the mid to late 2000’s and this current generation are swarming over the opposition in Europe, outrunning, outpacing everyone, the Spanish were always technically excellent but there seems to be a marked upturn in physical performance which was never there previously.

    Messi and Ronaldo are head and shoulders above everyone, unbelievably quick and almost unplayable. Again compare that to the top 2-3 players of the early 2000’s, Zidane barely broke a sweat, it was all about control, Ronaldo was a speedster in the late 90’s but after his injuries, which is basically all his football from 20o2 onwards, he used to wander around and then make a short burst before sticking the ball in the net, I don’t think I even remember him managing a full 90 minutes after his injuries, he was always subbed before the final whistle, Rivaldo was another guy who wasn’t quick in anyway and relied on his incredible technique. Henry was quick and physically strong, but again teams could stop him by defending deep, he never used to bounce off defenders in the way that Messi and Ronaldo do, and Henry had plenty of off days too

    I just find it hard to believe that there has been such a massive upturn in the physical condition of footballers in the last 6-8 years

  35. Declex - February 6, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

    Can we put blame on the players? Take for example, the Barclays Premier League. They have the League, F.A Cup, Capital One Cup, the UCL/Europa and the occasional international breaks. They have no xmas break break like the Laliga. Their league resumes ahead of other leagues i.e less time for breaks…mein, thats urge if you ask me. Those players aint superhumans and media/fans expect them to churn out good performances week in, week out all through the year. Some instances when the coaches decides to rest key players, fans/media complain so guys, what do you expect?

  36. gibbsbarrister - February 6, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

    The answer to your point about Fuentes (Operacion Puerto) is that the Spanish wanted to destroy the blood bags without identifying them – for obvious reasons – destruction of national icons. WADA managed to prevent that and has an application before Santamaria J in the Fuentes trial to gain access to them to do DNA testing. Santamaria J will probably only rule on their application at the end of the case (March 13). Meanwhile Spain holds its breath.

  37. HampdenExile - March 13, 2013 @ 8:22 pm

    I’m so glad it’s not just me who thinks that doping is rife and totally unchecked in football, and that the Spanish teams’ surge is deeply suspicious. People think you’re either crazy or jealous when you challenge, but can you really tell me that the 4-0 destruction of Milan was great football? I mean, they ran around like two-year-olds all game, showing prodigious levels of energy, topped off with the left-back making a 50+ yards burst to finish off the move and then look like he wasn’t even out of breath. Seriously..?
    I agree that the money aspect drives this behaviour, but regardless of the context, it’s happening worldwide, and Spain seems to be the most advanced in its application of doping technology (in football and the other sports where it has domination, like tennis).
    Cycling has been having its reckoning. I do hope football will have its Armstrong moment soon, so we can save its soul…

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