Football: Del Piero to sue over drug `slur' by coach

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THE ITALIAN international Alessandro Del Piero yesterday instructed his agent to start legal action against the Roma coach, Zdenek Zeman, following thinly-veiled allegations by the Czech of drug use against the Juventus striker.

Zeman has claimed that drugs were in danger of turning Serie A into another Tour de France, adding that he was amazed at the muscle development of Del Piero and the Chelsea player-manager, Gianluca Vialli.

"I've been involved in many sports," Zeman said, "and I thought that results of that kind could only be achieved through years and years of specific training. I'm certain that many First Division players, perhaps even in my own team, are unable to do without certain substances."

Juventus and Vialli both refused to comment on the Czech coach's claims yesterday, but Del Piero decided to counter-attack. His agent, Claudio Pasqualin, announced that he would be suing for damages, describing the accusations made in Espresso magazine as very serious and damaging for the whole of football.

"Claiming that great champions have become what they are by taking drugs or doping substances is not only false, but also irresponsible," Pasqualin said. "It's sporting discipline and personal sacrifice that have been the basis of Del Piero's success. If Zeman knows something different to that, then he should address himself to the football authorities.

"In the meantime, given the unacceptable slur on his reputation, Alessandro Del Piero has already instructed me not only to begin the inevitable legal proceedings but, once permission has been granted by the federation, to seek appropriate damages from a civil court."

Vialli was, meanwhile, tackled on the subject as he prepared for last night's Chelsea friendly against Parma in Palermo, but he answered the question with a terse "I'm not going to discuss it," before asking for the journalists and fans watching the warm-up session to be expelled from the stadium.