Vialli has his say at inquiry


The Chelsea player-manager Gianluca Vialli yesterday testified before the Turin state prosecutor as part of an inquiry into alleged drug use in Italian football.

The investigation by Raffaele Guariniello was prompted by allegations by the Roma coach Zdenek Zeman. After being interviewed the former Juventus player Vialli told reporters: "I can't speak to you, but it went well, very well."

Zeman has expressed concern about the long-term health implications of pharmaceutical abuse in the game. In the Italian weekly L'Espresso, Zeman was asked if it was true he had been "surprised" by the "muscular explosion of certain Juventus players". He replied: "My amazement starts with Gianluca Vialli and goes all the way to Alessandro Del Piero."

Those remarks prompted promises by Vialli, Del Piero and Juventus to sue Zeman. Both players have emphatically denied malpractice, arguing their build was due to intensive training methods.

Zeman had warned against pharmaceutical companies which offer "magic pills", tempting players with the promise of greatly enhanced performances by systematically using products better suited to the sick or injured.

In layman's terms, he appears to be saying that, while there is no evidence that Italian footballers systematically use illegal products such as amphetamines, cortisonerelated drugs, anabolic steroids or even erythropoetin (EPO), many of them use multi-vitamin cocktails, so-called "restoratives".

Although legal, these restoratives may prove dangerous for the player's long-term health while, in the short term, it is at least questionable if they constitute fair sporting practice.

Zeman said: "Players are under ever greater pressure and it gets harder and harder for them to resist the temptation of the magic little pill. I'm sure that many players in Serie A, probably even in my own Roma side, have difficulty giving up on certain substances."

His comments prompted expressions of solidarity not only from coaches like Gigi Simoni (Internazionale) and Carlo Mazzone (Bologna) but also from the deputy Prime Minister and the Sports Minister.

Ricardo Agricola, the Juventus chief medical officer, has denied his players took performance-enhancing drugs.