In April last year, a Harley Street Doctor, Mark Bonar, was caught giving a hard sell to cyclist Dan Stevens.
Stevens, who’d been caught taking something he shouldn’t have, decided to do two things – One, Get his doping ban reduced; And two, do something right by sport and expose some doping.
Quickly the clubs at the centre of the scandal – Arsenal, Leicester City, Chelsea and Birmingham City all rejected the claims and the media fell into line.
A few writers jumped on the bandwagon for a day or so, then it was back to Champions League and more important things than the well-being of athletes.
To dig deeper meant taking time and time is precious when your Editor needs the next click bait story. In any case, Ranieri had gone from ‘Tinkerman’ to ‘Miracle Man’ and doping didn’t exist in team sports.
When I asked Roddy Collins who he’d like in his backroom staff at Maltese outfit Florian F.C, he’d compiled a shortlist – Shelbourne legend Dave Rogers and UCD stalwart Tony McDonnell were two names included in the half-dozen, both good men.
Tony I’d trained with in UCD for a couple of months and Dave I’d dealt with in 2004 with ‘Shels’. Both were still good enough to lead on the field and, most importantly, they’d be loyal, supportive and carry out the managers wishes.
Who you bring in as backroom staff reflects on who you are and how serious you take your work and Claudio Ranieri takes his job very seriously.
One of his first hires was a medical man who had been with him in Monaco (2012-14) and Greece (2014), Andrea Azzalin. Azzalin comes from the Mapei Sports Centre, most famous for its association with Mapei Cycling Team.
Just in case anyone is in any doubt, ARD (the German Channel which exposed doping in Russia, Kenya and more) aired a damning documentary in 2007 which destroyed the Mapei clean cycling myth.
Azzalin, according to those who dealt with him in France, is “innovative” with his use of supplements. To translate this from industry parlance – he does marginal gains. If you need me to translate that further, just take a stroll down memory lane.
Last December in Paris, before the PSG-Lorient match kicked off, I discussed doping with a former schoolmate covering the game. I asked specifically about Monaco and the rumours swirling around the club, his response:
Ranieri came in and got the brains fixed, Andrea did the fitness and, let’s say, marginal gains working. They won Ligue 2 then were 2nd in Ligue 1. Physically we saw some changes and their energy, wow.
Since missing tests in England only results in a weeks salary for a fringe squad player and more than 1/3 of players are not tested, England is the ideal place to dope. Ranieri with his Mapei Army would be ideal for a club looking to gain marginally. Instead of hammering Ranieri and exposing Leicester, the media instead praised his recruitment
As seasons climaxed in England and Russia respectively, there was a marked difference in how they were reported. Rostov’s dirty linen got a full airing at the same time as Leicester were getting a pass over doping allegations.
Then, as David Conn took a look at Leicester’s Byzantine finances, Rostov players were subject to a FIFA dope testing “sting” which turned up nothing. At the time I cast doubts on both clubs in these very pages.
There could very well have been a dawn raid on Jamie Vardy and co. in the dying days of the non-event in England, though having asked enough insiders and received only negative answers, I doubt it.
In any case, only Russia dopes nowadays – despite the best efforts of proper journalists in the British media to prove otherwise. There was no scrutiny of Leicester City or Ranieri as they romped past traditional teams to become everyone’s 2nd team – we were told to believe.
As Rostov melted down during the Russian Summer, Ranieri was picking up awards for Premier League and LMA Manager of the Season. In October he was in a group with Silvio Berlusconi being inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame.
The brown-nosed adulation hit a high when he followed such “clean” heroes as Mourinho, Guardiola and Del Bosque as FIFA Coach of the Year. Sadly I couldn’t find any awards for Azzalin.
So, just as in 2015 when I was called “a scaremonger” for daring to suggest that Ranieri should be questioned for his association with questionable characters, I’ll echo what Eamon Dunphy recently said, though with added reason.
I’d have sacked him for his close links with the Mapei laboratory – after all, if club position means something to the club’s board, then surely the club’s reputation is as equally important?
The man who founded the Mapei Sports Centre was the late Dr. Aldo Sassi. Backed by the riches of former Mapei-Quickstep owner Roberto Squinzi, Sassi long screeched that his riders were clean and that he could prove it, much as in the way British Cycling and Team Sky proved they could keep records.
His supporters point to Cadel Evans as being alongside Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins as clean cyclists, and the less said about that the better. Just after Sassi died one of his clients, Riccardo Ricco was hospitalised after doping.
Ricco, banned until 2024, was caught three years ago buying doping products in a McDonalds car park. Squinzi claimed linking Ricco’s wrongdoing with Sassi was like “killing him a second time”.
Squinzi, in his spare time, also owns FC Sassuolo and he and Mapei were delighted to ink links with Juventus and Monaco in 2012. We might remember Monaco from a couple of paragraphs above. Oh, and Chelsea FC. Yes, Chelsea, where the Athletic/Fitness Trainer brought in by Ranieri was Roberto Sassi, brother of Aldo.
Roberto was hated by players and remembered by club staff in an unfavourable light – Graeme Le Saux called him “a little rat”. Roberto became his own man in 2011/12 when he joined Juventus’ backroom staff, where he remains to his day.
His recommendation, according to an Italian journalist covering the Moscow beat, for a new fitness guru for Ranieri was, Andrea Azzalin – a creation of the Mapei lab.
As Roberto had followed Claudio to Valencia twice, Atletico Madrid and Chelsea, Azzalin became an integral part of the Italian fitness revolution that Zdenek Zeman hailed as rotten in 2015. Juve, of course, are going for a six-in-a-row this season. Marginal gains, as British and Sky Cycling know, count.
When the axe finally fell on Claudio’s exposed neck any dissection of the man in a meaningful way was absent from commentary, even from the same writers who attacked doping in football last year.
Gary Lineker cried for his former club and Claudio, though not for players who are the latest in a long line of beneficiaries of Italian fitness know how.
Stan Collymore found the sacking “absolutely disgusting”. In fairness to Stan he’s not been backwards in bringing up the topic of doping in football, though he might want to do some research on Tinkerman and his absolutely disgusting associations.
Instead of digging into his backroom team’s background, “treacherous” players were getting the blame. Not a mention of Aldo, Roberto or Andrea. Not a mention of last April’s revelations, or Vardy’s port and Red Bull preparation.
Nobody wants to dig into the cesspit that is football in case of what might be found. Nobody wants to clean it up as it’s bad for business. Claudio knew this and felt free to act with impunity by bringing his Italian fitness specialists with him around Europe.
So forgive me for not shedding a tear for paternal Claudio. He was well rewarded financially for his efforts and will rock up at another club or country soon, along with Azzalin who was sacked with him.
I’d rather shed a tear in frustration at the complete absence of common sense in the 5th Estate and care for athlete welfare.
Still, since Ranieri’s departure Leicester have beaten Liverpool and Hull so all must be right with the world again. And in any case, if the fans don’t care, why should we?