Andrea Pirlo: Deportivo La Coruña were so crazy they may have been on drugs to topple AC Milan in Champions League quarter-final

Spanish side came back from a 4-1 deficit in their first leg against Milan to win 4-0 at home and progress to the semi-finals
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The Italy and Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo has said that he fears the Deportivo La Coruña team of 2003/04 could have been taking performance-enhancing drugs when they beat Pirlo’s Milan side in the Champions League quarter-finals that season.

The allegation – Pirlo himself describes it as a “nasty thought” – comes in the player’s autobiography, published in English for the first time today. The Deportivo team of that season finished third in the Spanish league and came back from a 4-1 deficit in their first leg against Milan to win 4-0 at home and progress to the semi-finals, where they were eliminated by Jose Mourinho’s Porto side.

The win over Milan was the first time a three-goal advantage had been overturned in the Champions League, and was all the more remarkable for the fact that the Italians were the defending champions and had not conceded a goal away from home in the entire competition. Pirlo played for the first 58 minutes before being substituted.

Pirlo writes: “We’d won the first game 4-1 and the chances of us not going through were roughly equal to those of seeing Rino Gattuso complete an arts degree.

“We were already thinking about the semis, as if we’d got it all sewn up even before we flew to Galicia. A tailor-made walk in the park. We hadn’t taken into account a couple of possibilities. One, that the tailor might go mad and, two, that our own players could be struck down by collective amnesia. Every single one of them, all at the same time.


“The impossible became reality. We forgot to play, and it ended 4-0 to them. They were laughing at us that night. The first thing that needs to be said is we did ourselves in. But, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, something doesn’t stack up. Our opponents were going at a thousand miles an hour all night, even the older players who’d never exactly been known for their ability to combine speed with stamina.

“What struck me most was how they kept on running at half-time. To a man: no exceptions. When the referee, Urs Meier, blew his whistle they all shot off down the tunnel as if they were Usain Bolt. They couldn’t stand still even in that 15-minute period designed specifically to let you draw breath or at most just walk about.

“We were chasing shadows all night. Their players were crazy buzz bombs flying around all over the place. I don’t have any proof, so what follows isn’t an accusation – I’d never allow myself to go that far. It’s simply a nasty thought I’ve occasionally let percolate in the intervening years.

“For the first and only time in my life, I’ve wondered if people I’d shared a pitch with might have been on something.

“Maybe it’s all just anger that I haven’t yet managed to work through. But the Deportivo players were like men possessed, galloping towards a target that only they could see. For our part, we were completely blind, and duly brutalised.

“Whatever the truth of the matter, they came up against Porto in the semis and went out. Within a short space of time, they’d disappeared from the face of all the major European competitions.”

A spokesman for Deportivo told The Independent on Monday: “The words in the book are not even worthy of a response from us.”