Football and drug-testing: The eternal debate

A couple of days ago, I was lucky enough to be on a flight from Kharkov to Kiev, that was filled with football celebrities. At the check-in, the BBC Sports team was lined up behind me, with Jan Molby the ex-Liverpool player, a personal hero of mine, and Martin Keown, the ex-Arsenal player, who are both giving match analyses from the TV studios.

Queued up in front of me were two UEFA doctors from the drug monitoring team, who were travelling with blood and urine samples from the Denmark-Holland game for analysis at the UEFA laboratory. Also boarding was the ex-Swedish coach Lars Lagerbeck, along with several others I didn’t recognise, plus of course, all the ordinary fans like me.

Throughout the flight, I sat next to the Chief Medical Officer of the UEFA, a Danish man who told me several interesting stories about his life in football. Most surprising was that he considered drug tests ‘fairly’ pointless, as there was no drug that could make

you a better footballer.

I countered that surely there must be stimulants that can make you run further and faster for longer?

UEFA has been studying all the top clubs for many years and has over one million hours of playing data. One of the findings is that for half the playing time, 45 minutes, players are either standing or walking. A player only runs fast for just 10 minutes of each game. And so any drug that enhances fitness wouldn’t give a ‘significant’ advantage over other players, and certainly wouldn’t make you a better football player.

That is why, despite testing 50 per cent of squads before a tournament, and two players randomly selected from each team after each match, there has never been one positive result. Even the players don’t believe taking performance-enhancing drugs would help significantly.

Quite a revelation, considering the wide abuse of drugs in many sports these days. It just shows that football is more about the silky skills of Messi, than the strong-arm tactics of Stoke (Apologies to Stoke fans!).

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