The debate: Substances in Football

Much was made of the revelation that England players used Pro Plus during the 1-1 draw with Poland in October once again brought on the age old debate regarding supplements within football. Understandably, the officiating bodies take a hard stance on the use of performance enhancing drugs – you only have to look at the respective bans Rio Ferdinand and Kolo Toure received after their run in with the law.

It is no shock to see the Football Association clamp down on proposed drug cheats. Ferdinand was banned for nine months having missed a test, while Toure was handed a six month suspension after failing his for taking an unspecified substance in water tablets he obtained from his wife.

Substance abuse is considered one of the highest forms of cheating in all sports and football is no different. Whether it is through taking water tablets like Toure or failing a drugs test for cocaine, much like Adrian Mutu did in 2004 during his time at Chelsea, any form of illegal drug, be it performance enhancing or not, is frowned upon.

Following the stalemate in Warsaw in October, Glen Johnson revealed that the players took Pro Plus before the game was initially called off for a waterlogged pitch. With the caffeine pumping through their system, the Liverpool defender admitted that players took sleeping pills to overcome the effects of the caffeinated pill, with manager Roy Hodgson confessing the team hadn’t looked as “sharp or lively” during the 1-1 draw.

In England at the time, there were those discussing whether the use of mild stimulants and sedatives was fair or even, and to a certain extent, legal. Ferdinand and Everton utility man Phil Neville argue it isn’t, while Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers, of Wigan Athletic and Liverpool respectively, hinted that while they don’t agree with using artificial products to gain a minor advantage over opponents, they hinted that sleeping pills maybe used.

It’s a very grey area when it comes to legal and illegal substances. Competitors will undoubtedly want gain an advantage over opponents through the use of lighter boots, under armour, differing shinpads or in this case; Pro Plus.

The Lance Armstrong doping scandal which shocked the world of sport brought the use of supplements back into the furore, with caffeine appearing on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list until 2004.

The substance can be taken in pill form, through Pro Plus, or in coffee and energy drinks, such as Red Bull. Only last month, fans bore witness to Tottenham Hotspur striker Emmanuel Adebayor sipping from a can of the energy drink ahead of their Europa League encounter with Lazio as the teams gathered in the tunnel prior to kick off.

Yet, it isn’t just caffeine that is considered a legal stimulant to improve performance. Protein and health supplements, Creatine, even sweets, are permitted by the authorities to aid in recovery as well as bolster a footballer’s ability on the pitch.

There will always be a substance of supplement that is borderline illegal, but one that players will use in order to gain an advantage over an opponent such is the way of sport and the modern game.

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