LARRY RYAN: Doping not a big big deal

Leicester got another lucky break during the week.

The big story broke, wiping last Sunday’s unpleasantness clear off the back pages.

Prince William told a Football Association lunch he’d like the Foxes to win the Premier League, that it would be good for football.

Naturally, this expression of Royal opinion required meaty analysis. Some drilling down. If Sky’s sentiment measurement guru Geoff Shreeves wasn’t present, doubtless somebody got him on the phone to see how things should proceed.

How badly do you want them to win it, William, is the traditional gambit.

In fairness to him, the boy stepped up, wrote the headlines himself.

“Duke of Cambridge dying to see Foxes win Premier League.”

The Leicester press officer could down tools, certain there would be no more awkward questions he’d have to prevent Claudio from answering. It had all gone away.

In truth, Leicester may not have needed the prince of hearts to step up at all, rather dispatched one of their boys to hide behind some bins at two in the morning.

A 12-minute press conference took place at London Colney on Thursday morning. In his first briefing since Arsenal were mentioned in The Sunday Times’ doping exposé, Arsene Wenger fielded a token query or two about today’s opponents West Ham, the customary probe about transfer window targets, and a protracted interrogation about the nocturnal antics of Jack Wilshere.

With that, the great Premier League thirst for ‘controvassy’ was sated.

The hunt for a culture of hiding behind nightclub bins in English football was tireless and comprehensive. But there was no further need to detain a man who has always been eager to engage with the doping conversation.

If Geoff was on hand to seek an assessment of how big the doping story was this week, he might not even have commanded a ‘big, big’.

Certainly not a ‘massive massive’.

Of course, there are several good reasons why the conversation didn’t gain much momentum. Legal concerns; Leicester, Arsenal, Chelsea and Birmingham City quickly refuted Dr Mark Bonar’s claims he had treated some of their players. The Times produced no evidence to back up the claims.

There will be natural reluctance too, from journalists, to give another outlet’s story too much credence. And Dr Bonar doesn’t seem the kind of character who easily commands unbelievable belief.

Doping not a big big deal

While many find it unfair that Leicester’s miracle season should be tarnished in any way by a shift of focus.

But as we close our ears to some things, we can, at least, listen to the vocabulary of English football evolve, as the game speeds up before our eyes.

We hear James Ward-Prowse tell us “it does feel like you need two hearts to play like that”, of Mauricio Pochettino’s methods. And we remember what Greg Lemond said when he first landed in France: “It was like the Europeans had four lungs, two hearts and six legs.”

We hear about remarkable improvements and we listen to Claudio explain the importance of maintaining ‘a full battery’. And all clubs are eager to let us in on their marginal gains; the sleep pods on the training ground and their own pillows, washed with the right powder, in the hotels.

We know Southampton have a ‘black box’, that looks for athletic players and measures their ‘output’.

You wonder what the black box would have made of Matt Le Tissier and we must wonder too what the cyclists and the runners and the lifters must make of us, with our excitement about all of this, rather than the scepticism they must endure 24/7.

In the Sunday Independent a few weeks ago, after Maria Sharapova made her unforced error, Declan Lynch made the point that we can wring our hands and engage easily with the doping conversation dogging other sports, because they essentially don’t really matter much to us.

“But,” he wrote, “when they come for football - that’s when we will all be tested.”

I don’t think you would need to study the conduct of an average football fan for very long to suspect it’s a test we’ll comfortably pass. Or fail, depending on your perspective.

The exhaustive microscopic search for ‘contact’ when one of our boys collapses in the box suggests we’ll hang in there alright, when a few of them trigger hematocrit alarms.

You’ll recall the impassioned defence, from manager and fans, when Rio Ferdinand was banned for missing a test. Or the bantz around Kolo Toure’s diet pills and his big arse.

Or you could admire how the nineties nandrolone ‘victims’ remain among the most respected people in the sport. Or how so many emerged from the Juventus ‘cloud’ to long, lucrative careers.

The cynics will tell you there’s too much money in football for doping to bring it down. But, more importantly, too many people are invested too heavily.

When the sport is a way of life, we will eventually accept doping as a fact of life, like the Americans are sanguine about juicing in the NFL.

“It was something everyone had to do to get an equal chance.”

Maybe it was Arnie we heard that from first, back in his 70s strongman days, talking about the roids. It never stopped them electing him or us going to see his flicks.

That line of thinking didn’t sound so clever from Lance, but some day soon it might trip as easily off our tongues as “I’ve seen them given.”

Conte’s hunger games

We’ve long known the GAA to be at the vanguard of psychology and motivation. And time-honoured methods have been given a fresh seal of approval by incoming Chelsea boss Antonio Conte.

We heardk how the current Italy gaffer, before a qualifier with Croatia, stuck an interview Croatia’s captain Darijo Srna had given to La Gazzetta Dello Sport on the wall at the Azzuri’s training ground.

“Lads, this is what they’re saying about us,” is how Conte reportedly roused his troops.

Are Chelsea about to be introduced to The Savage Hunger?

Major Olympic boost for golf

At ease Thomas Bach, Seb Coe and, er, co. A saviour has been found for the Olympics, to lend your grimy event an intoxicating whiff of azalea-scented exclusivity.

When they first touted golf as an Olympic sport, there were naysayers, short-sighted grumps who didn’t reckon on the blue-chip generosity of the sport’s powerbrokers.

So, as of Rio this year, as a little sweetener for golfers to suit up at the five-ring circus, an Olympic gold will also earn you a place in the four majors next season.

What a boost it is for the status of the Games, to be recognised as an official Masters qualifier. Golf’s version of the Europa League.

Heroes & villains

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN

Robbie Martinez: So in tune with his players, he knows what they want to say better than they do themselves.

HELL IN A HANDCART

Paddy Power and Betfair: It was always a gap in the online betting experience, the inability to back your judgment of high-profile murder cases against fellow punters. Should soon be sorted now synergies have been achieved.

Ger Loughnane: Kindly delivered — Srna-style — a wealth of material to pin on the dressing room door of Kilkenny’s “functional hurlers”. Lest anyone was expecting a competitive championship.

Hyde Park ambushers: Any word yet on survivors of last Sunday’s shocking humanitarian crisis that saw helpless Dubs abandoned in the wilds of Roscommon?

Marcelo: What a gowl.


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