In 2016, I submitted an article to a peer reviewed journal and the editor called me immediately after he’d read it. He spoke in glowing terms about the balance of academic support and real life test cases.
It was titled – “Dangers of caffeine misuse in elite sport.” I was thrilled. He said it would catch fire with media given the subject matter and test cases. He then told me that to publish it in the first quarter of 2017 it would cost me $2,500, plus $500 in editor fees. It’ll now be published in the first quarter of 2021. And on this basis, I’ll explain why Liverpool won’t win the Premier League this year.
In October 2018 and again in October 2019 on Capital Sports FM radio in Moscow we predicted the winners of the English Premier League. We told people to bet their houses on Manchester City in 2018 and then on Liverpool to win in 2019. This year, I’d do the same – but to bet everything that Liverpool won’t win the Premier League. Simple reasons why:
- Only one club has retained their crown since 2008/09
- COVID-19 has messed up any rhythm Liverpool might have had
And, most importantly of all:
- They will be cycling off
Manchester City were the last to retain their crown and that was in the face of a behind the scenes meltdown where best friend and number two to the manager Zeljko Buvac objected in going “full nuclear” to capture the league title. He was sent on gardening leave and a couple of months later the man who would become deputy returned after a spell in Holland with a lot of new know-how for a two season cycle.
In 2018 Liverpool were 19 points off Manchester City and a year later they were one point from the holy grail. And last year they got their hands on the grail after 30 years of waiting. But at what price?
Liverpool in recovery
This is where I dip into the academic research undertaken for the article mentioned in the opening paragraph, Liverpool cycling off. Just as Leicester City went hell for leather under the watchful eye of Mapei graduate Andrea Azzalin, Azzalin followed Claudio Ranieri around like a sweet scent and was last at AS Roma before Ranieri rocked up in Sampdoria.
Azzalin learned from the best in cycling and like fellow Mapei alumni found his knowledge transferable to football. This knowledge of how to push players above and beyond their limits using caffeine and other substances was ridden out on a rail from Chelsea but found a welcome home for a time in Juventus.
We can remember the mad stories of Jamie Vardy souping up on Red Bull and port, greeted with giggles from the lapdog English sports media. All fun and games – until his heart packs in. Jamie, they repeated without bullshit filter, shuns gym work “so as not to bulk up and hinder his explosive pace.” Yes. This was puked out into the public sphere with no comment. Remember, too, how Leicester City players were visiting Dr. Mark Bonar.
Remember the heretical line Azzalin was part of, back to the Sassis. Andrea is an expert in the effects of caffeine and had a willing subject in Jamie, as shown here from his betting sponsored Sun column. Three Red Bulls, an omelette and a double espresso.
The English Premier League is played at a pace only matched by sugar-crazed toddlers. The fittest teams who have the best benches and best injury prevention invariably win. However there is the extra part as explained to me by one source working with an Premier League club,
“It’s impossible to keep this up season after season. The new stuff, added with caffeine, puts so much pressure on the cardio (vascular) system. Now you put into that painkillers or even anti-biotics (if they’re ill), it’s a minefield.”
Putting hearts under such pressure season after season, at the pace of the Premier League, is a tragedy waiting to happen. Privately players and coaches I’ve interviewed say that it’s not just muscle or bone injuries that have been increasing. Getting someone to go fully on the record is almost impossible as the omerta around football is as bad as that as in cycling or tennis.
Bayern Munich and their “Healing Hans”, Juventus and their “system”, Paris Saint-Germain, RB Leipzig, Barcelona, Real Madrid and on and on. Yes, they’re also as clean as Peppa Pig’s boots after a day of muddy puddle jumping. Leipzig have an East German doping criminal in charge of their sports medicine. But don’t worry, he’s also worked with US athletes who have never tested positive.
Staying in Germany, Hans Muller Wohlfahrt and his injections have helped everyone from Bono (yes, U2’s Bono), Usain Bolt, Paula Radcliffe and a number of other dodgy characters across a range of sports. He was only recently binned for the second time from Bayern Munich, but his legacy lives on. He’d been kicked out before by Pep Guardiola who brought in his own gurus.
Juventus have a Sassi and no touch control from Italian Anti-Doping. Cristiano Ronaldo still cannot explain his change in physique which began in Spain and has been maintained admirably in Italy. But what these clubs have in common, generally moreso than England, is less competitive leagues, a slower style of play and longstanding doping cultures.
The UK has the longstanding doping culture but a more competitive and fast paced tournament. Jan Molby, Matt Le Tissier and other skilled players strolling around the field have no place in England anymore, however equally skilled, but well muscled and high-stamina players do. Whataboutery is a fair comment, however it’s comparing different beasts.
Why Liverpool will not win the league this season
Jurgen Klopp is no dummy. He knows that after the exertions of two seasons chasing the holy grail, lockdown included, this season will be one for cups aspirations. Pep Lijnders did enough to prove his methods and be brought back to the Liverpool fold.
But even with Dutch know-how, he has learned from cycling expertise that they now need to cycle off. Push more and you risk healthy young men suffering from cardiac arrest. I’ve gone into this before and nothing has changed.
Would Liverpool fans have called a halt to super-dosing on caffeine and other substances if it meant their beloved club didn’t end 30 years of chasing the dragon? Would they hell! The response each time I asked a fan was – well, they know what they’re doing or that it was the player’s choice. Like the vast majority of football journalists, they don’t particularly care.
Liverpool cannot win this season because physically, scientifically and morally they cannot. They cannot overdose again on caffeine because of the side-effects. They cannot keep up the pace with other substances and painkillers because the amounts needed to win the league would cause a slew of injuries. And as much as the American owners would like to win the title once again, players are valuable assets to them and they don’t need Mo, Roberto and company to break down and lose their resale value.
According to a source close to the club, of 35 players 22 are asthmatic – 63% of the squad, over five times higher than the 12% UK average. With so many sickly players and COVID-19 threatening these at risk players, it’s already dangerous. To keep the players at the max for an entire season, on numerous fronts, substances to enhance and support performance are needed.
The players have been flat out for two seasons and their bodies cannot take much more. When the joke shop of US Anti-Doping can explain how dangerous overuse of PEDs (legal) can be for the meatiest of heads, Jurgen, Pep and the wiseguys in Anfield know when to lift their foot off the pedal.
In concluding the academic article, I pointed out that no Liverpool players have failed tests. I am not alleging any wrongdoing on their part. Nor am I intimating that they’re all on the juice. I’ve simply studied the support systems, those involved and what’s needed to achieve what they have achieved.
It’s impossible to do three seasons in a row without players collapsing from cardiovascular issues or physical or mental collapse. So now is a good time to back them not winning the Premier League this season.