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  1. The war for excellence Have you ever thought about what happens in elite sports? How it develops, changes, expands its vision, so that records constantly get broken, old truths get demolished? It is because of a war, a war between the old guard and the new, the previous generation and the now. And, of course this is a football column so I will concentrate on that but other sports provide a clearer, starker emphasis on what I mean. Pep Guardiola - found guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs in 2001 but then cleared on appeal First we must go back in time. When we talk about the greatest teams ever in football, we think of the Hungary side in the 50’s, Real Madrid also in the fifties, Brazil in 1970, Liverpool in the 70’s and 80’s, etc. I would say if you took any of these teams in their prime and put them against say Fulham, exactly halfway in the Premier league, Fulham would win easily enough. Not because they are better footballers, but because they run harder and longer, they have everything done for them, diet, training, physiotherapy, modern medicine (painkillers, etc.). Not for them eating greasy chips and kebabs washed down with 10 pints of beer and an ashtray full of cigarettes. The New always beats the Old Of course, the comparison is spurious, as the old teams had heavy pitches, heavy balls, and different rules to contend with. Sports science was in its infancy and football was slower than most Olympic sports to utilize the power of pharmacy. The logic being that drugs cannot make you a better player. But if you can run harder and faster, you can press your opponent every time they come near the ball, not let them settle, and use your modern advantages to win. Ergo my belief that even the greatest teams of the past could not win against an average modern team. And why Olympic records are always broken. The sum total of the controlled life of the modern athlete gives them an advantage over competitors of the past. Arsene did not believe in cheating And so Roger Bannister’s miraculous 4 minute mile in 1954 is now a distant sum with more than 17 seconds faster being achieved. But nothing has been achieved, no matter what the sport, without the fact and suspicion of performance enhancing drugs. I believe football is no different. Here is Arsene Wenger: The Frenchman lamented that his Arsenal side had "played against many teams" using performance-enhancing drugs and stated later: "I'm not satisfied with the level of testing." The drugs do work In Hajo Seppelt's 1999 documentary "Indictment Doping: The Legacy of East German Sports," he put forward his suspicion that footballers were partaking in the use of illegal substances. Hajo Seppelt has the right suspicions "People who say that there is no doping problem in football, that's bull**t," Seppelt told CNN. "People say the drugs have no benefits, but look at the science and the distances covered by players in the game today." He is absolutely correct. Please go and look at a great game of the past on the internet, say Man Utd and Benfica in the European Cup final in 1968. The movement was much slower. Then, technique, vision, ball skills, dribbling and defences that would kick the ball anywhere away from the goal were the norm. Now speed is the critical factor, you push the ball past your opponent and outsprint him to get around him. Dick Pound has similar suspicions Here is Dick Pound, the founder and president of the World Anti-doping Agency: “We have always had trouble attracting FIFA to the problem. For many years, they sort of didn’t think the world anti-doping codes should apply to them. At one time, the world’s largest sport’s registered testing pool consisted of just 10 players, and you’re never going to catch anyone doing that.” They cheat, we cheat, and everyone cheats So what are we left with? The strong suspicion that drugs are endemic in soccer and that the authorities are not too interested in changing that. In all honesty I have stopped caring about many sports, athletics, swimming, cycling because I don’t believe they are clean. I clung to the belief that in soccer they cannot make you a better player but nowadays when I see the speed, the stamina and the 90 odd minutes of haring around a field I am pretty certain that players are using drugs. It goes back to the point I was making at the start. Anything that gives you an advantage must be used. Your best player is injured? Give him an injection and send him out. If your opponents are doing it you must, it is as simple as that, no matter what it is. Maradona - didn't understand that cocaine makes you a worse footballer We all know that cheating is normal on the field of play, stopping an opponent on a breakaway by any means possible is what is expected. As is diving and buying a freekick or penalty. Surrounding the referee and putting your hand up for everything is commonplace. But that is the cheating we see. What goes on that we don’t see? And as I have said, there are teams of people working in football who are trying to figure out any way they can get an advantage, no matter how small. Soon, a normal plane will not be enough to ferry your team to an away match and only a Boeing 777 will do. Cheating is now the only way to improve The thing is, they have most likely exhausted long ago any safe or legal way to improve performances across all sports. My suspicion is that the only way now is to cheat. Suppose you have talent and you are willing to train hard. Your mentality is strong enough to withstand the abuse you receive when you play a bad game, or make a silly mistake. But you know that your opponents have an advantage and it is them that will win the trophies, get the huge money, and the acclaim of being champions. In short, if one does it, then all have to. Otherwise you are Real Madrid of the fifties being unable to beat a mid-table team today. The sport moves on and you must move with it. Every little advantage must be taken up, legally such as tactics, sports psychology, diet, training, good pitches, and so on but also the underground stuff, the drugs and the cheating, the corruption and the scandals. Diving is now expected cheating Can anything be done to change it? Answers on a postcard, please. To me, at least, it is depressing that my heroes on the football pitch are probably utilizing performance enhancers. Let’s take Arsenal, we have divers, we have referee intimidators, we have hands going up for everything, we commit professional fouls, we waste time and it is because all teams do it. We cannot let an opponent have an advantage. So, do you believe we don’t keep up with underground practices also, that we can’t see on the pitch? We can’t see it, so it is not there? The unhappy fact that you must keep up and always improve, could well lead to the death of professional sport and there are very few talking about it. So, this time, my C’mon Arsenal is to show the way, to stop the cheating on the pitch and off it even if it means we cannot keep up. I doubt if many agree with me.
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