Ex-Manchester United captains Gary Neville and Roy Keane have spoken of suspicions that certain teams they faced in the Champions League during a period in the early years of the 21st century may have been guilty of doping in order to try and gain an unfair advantage.
Neville and Keane stopped short of naming names or throwing out direct accusations but pointed a finger loosely at a couple of “Italian teams” they had faced in Europe.
“There are a couple that stick in my mind and I’m going to say this for legal reasons, I think there were a few teams that we played against who weren’t clean. We thought it at the time,” Neville explained on the latest episode of Stick to Football alongside Keane and Jamie Carragher.
“You look back at what came out after in cycling and other sports and doctors and then you think, ‘Hang on?'” he added as the trio discussed their toughest European nights.
“Physically, we were fit, we weren’t drinkers. I came off a pitch against an Italian team and thought, ‘That’s not right. That’s not right, I’m sorry’. And I know that a couple of the other lads, mid-2000s, thought exactly the same thing.”
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Keane also gave his own thoughts on the topic: “We played certain teams, I would be walking off and would be absolutely shattered. I would be looking at the players I played against, a couple of Italian teams, and they looked like they’ve not even played a match.”
Italian football has been tarred by doping allegations in the past. In 2004, a Juventus doctor was found guilty of providing a performance-enhancing drugs between 1994 and 1998. Another defendant was cleared at the time and a third struck a plea deal.
The investigation was initially launched after then Roma coach Zdenek Zeman had said in 1998 that football “needed to come out of the pharmacy”. The doctor in question, given a 22-month suspended prison sentence, was later cleared of ‘sporting fraud’ by Turin’s court of appeal in 2005.