It finally happened. With all the inevitability of another Rocky movie, the Spanish media have once again upped the stakes. This time it was the Madrid based radio station Cadena COPE that broke the story that Real Madrid have requested stricter doping regulations from the Spanish FA (RFEF). The inference is that other clubs are benefiting from using performance enhancing drugs. And when we talk about Real Madrid and other clubs all we really mean is Barcelona. Although Valencia have also been implicated, the major target seems to be the Pep and his Golden Boys. COPE’s story was in essence a circumspect accusation that Barcelona has been doping it’s players.
Both Barca and Valencia have of course denied this very strongly and unless COPE or Real Madrid have any evidence then the story is likely to die here. Despite controversy surrounding both Spanish cyclists and athletes, it seems more than a little far-fetched that the players of either club have deliberately taken banned substances. Mundo Deportivo and Sport (two Barcelona-supporting papers) have declared their outrage and accused Florentino Perez and Jose Mourinho of creating this smear campaign against the Catalan club.
Now while it would make me feel better to know that Leo Messi is actually a drug-fuelled monstrosity whose skill comes in easy-to-swallow pill form, it doesn’t seem likely. In any case it would probably constitute the first time ever that a club had given players drugs to make them shorter. The more surprising fact is that it’s taken this long to get to this point. AS, Mundo Deportivo, Marca and all the other Spanish sports papers have been building this war for years. Cristiano Ronaldo has been awarded by goals by Marca that even the RFEF has declared an own goal in the papers manic drive to see the Portuguese forward given the Pichichi (top scorer) over Messi. They also feature a “corrected” table which is supposed to represent what the table would look like if all refereeing decisions were 100% right. Guess what, Madrid are only one point behind as opposed to seven. But wait, Barcelona had a legitimate goal disallowed against Sevilla last weekend. Did Marca give Barcelona an additional two points which they would have gotten with correct decision? Take a guess. The other major Madrid daily AS actually went as far as to photoshop Athletic Bilbao defender Koikili out of a picture to try and show Dani Alves as offside in the build up to Barcelona’s opening goal.
Both sides are so virulent in their attacks on the enemy that it wasn’t long before one side would accuse the other of doping. After all they both accuse each other of bribing the referees and other clubs of not trying. Although he was talking about the much more serious issue of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson, Arizona Slate’s John Dickerson was 100% right when he said that if “Everyone [in the media] is already supercharged and yelling then nobody is going to listen, they’ll just yell louder.”
I don’t wish to cheapen the events in Tucson, but the point is still relevant. The dailies in Spain are so partisan, so biased and so crazed that facts are being jettisoned in any situation they don’t support the arguments being made. In such an atmosphere, it was inevitable that the issues of bribery or doping would eventually be brought up. The best that can be hoped for is that the threat of legal action preserves a tiny bit of sanity. But as the stakes between the two giants continue to rise, the chances are that more stories like this will emerge, casting sleaze over some of the best football the world has ever seen.