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.
Andrea Pirlo...in his own words
Andrea Pirlo...in his own words
1/16 On himself
I don’t feel pressure... I don’t give a toss about it. I spent the afternoon of Sunday, July 9, 2006 in Berlin sleeping and playing the PlayStation. In the evening, I went out and won the World Cup.
2/16 On Milanello
We met in the room used for team meals, halfway between the kitchen and the hall with the hearth where [Silvio] Berlusconi would pound away on the piano and tell various kinds of jokes. Equidistant between the most modest part of the complex and the richest. Between a symbol of humility and one of unabashed power. Between a place where people sweat buckets earning relatively little, and a spot where they earn a fortune sweating just the right amount.
3/16 On denying transfer rumours
You’re then forced to tell the media a lot of crap; provided, of course, that they manage to ask you the right question. If they enquire whether it’s right you’d practically signed for Madrid, you are duty-bound to respond hiding behind well worn clichés and half truths. You read a dull, lifeless script written by press officers with no talent or creative spark. “No, that’s not the case. I’m perfectly happy in Milan.” F*** off!
4/16 On his PlayStation obsession
After the wheel, the PlayStation is the best invention of all time. And ever since it’s existed, I’ve been Barcelona, apart from a brief spell way back at the start when I’d go Milan. The head to heads [with room-mate Alessandro Nesta, “Sandro”] were pure adrenaline. I’d go Barcelona and so would Sandro. Barça v Barça... but I’d still end up losing a lot of the time. I’d get pissed off and hurl away my controller before asking for a rematch. And then I’d lose again. It’s not like I could use the excuse that his coach was better than mine: it was Pep Guardiola for him and Pep Guardiola for me. At least in terms of our manager we set out on a level footing. One day we thought about kidnapping him. The flesh and bones, real life version that is. It was 25 August, 2010, and we were with Milan at the Nou Camp for the Gamper pre-season tournament. We thought better of our hostage-taking in the end. To avoid constantly falling out, we’d have needed to saw him in two when we got back to Italy, and that wouldn’t have been a good idea. How the poor thing would have suffered.
5/16 On meeting Guardiola about a move to Barça
I wasn’t really bothered about much else in the room besides the person who had summoned me. Guardiola was sitting in an armchair. He began to tell me about Barcelona, saying that it’s a world apart, a perfect machine that pretty much invented itself. He was elegant in the extreme, much like his conversation. I immediately thought of Sandro – he’d die of jealousy when I told him [that Guardiola wanted to sign Pirlo]. I was taking away the 50 per cent of Guardiola that belonged to him.
6/16 On being given the first penalty in the 2006 World Cup final shoot-out
Being first on the spot, kicking off that torture in the biggest, most incredible game that a player can play or imagine... That’s not necessarily good news. It means they think you’re the best, but it also means that if you miss, you’re first on the list of d********.
7/16 On taking that penalty against France
Caressing the ball was something I had to do. I lifted my eyes to the heavens and asked for help because if God exists, there’s no way he’s French. I took a long, intense breath. That breath was mine, but it could have been the manual worker who struggles to make it to the end of the month, the rich businessmen who is a bit of a s***, the teacher, the student, the Italian expats who never left our side during the tournament, the well-to-do Milanese signora, the hooker on the street corner. In that moment, I was all of them. You won’t believe me, but it was right in that very moment I understood what a great thing it is to be Italian. It’s a truly priceless privilege.
8/16 On his ‘panenka’ penalty against Joe Hart
I made my decision right at the last second, when I saw Joe Hart, the England goalie, doing all sorts on his line. As I began my run-up, I still hadn’t decided what I was going to do. And then he moved and my mind was made up. It was all impromptu, not premeditated. The only way I could see pushing my chances of scoring close to 100 per cent. There was absolutely no showboating about it – that’s not my style.
9/16 On Rino Gattuso
Rino’s word was law at Milan, and anyone new to the club was aware that the first thing they had to do if they made a mistake was explain themselves to him. Just having that knowledge drastically reduced the chances of people f****** up.
10/16 On Marcello Lippi’s approach during the 2006 World Cup
It was a real team effort that made us world champions in Germany but, at one point, Lippi had this to say about the group: “You’re all s****; you disgust me... You talk to the journalists too much. You’re spies who can’t keep a single secret – those guys always know the team in real time. What’s that all about? I can’t even trust you.”
11/16 On playing for Roy Hodgson at Internazionale
Hodgson mispronounced my name. He called me “Pirla” (d*******), perhaps understanding my true nature more than the other managers.
12/16 On agreeing to join Chelsea (Milan refused to sell)
It was August 2009 and I had reached agreement with Chelsea, the club where Ancelotti had just come in as manager. Carlo was like a father and a teacher for me, a kind, friendly man who knew how to make things fun.
13/16 On the legendary fight at Milanello between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Oguchi Onyewu
I saw them laying into one another like two bullyboys from the roughest estate. They looked like they were trying to kill each other: there were definitely some broken ribs, despite silence and denials from the king’s buglers who said it was just a “lively confrontation”. Those of us who’d witnessed it were put in mind of a mafia-style settling of the scores.
14/16 On losing the Champions League final to Liverpool in 2005 in Istanbul, having led 3-0
When that torture of the game was finished, we sat like a bunch of halfwits in the dressing room... we were bloodthirsty zombies faced with an unforeseen problem – the blood was ours and they’d drunk every last drop. We couldn’t speak. We couldn’t move. They’d mentally destroyed us. Insomnia, rage, depression, a sense of nothingness. We’d invented a new disease with multiple symptoms: Istanbul syndrome. I no longer felt like a player, and that was devastating enough. Even worse, I no longer felt like a man. That’s right: for f***’s sake. Double f***. The first words that come to my lips when I think of Istanbul.
15/16 On Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to use Park Ji-sung to man-mark him
Even Ferguson, the purple-nosed manager who turned Manchester United into a fearsome battleship, couldn’t resist the temptation. He’s essentially a man without blemish, but he ruined that purity just for a moment when it came to me. A fleeting shabbiness came over the legend that night. On one of the many occasions when our paths crossed during my time at Milan, he unleashed Park Ji-sung to shadow me. The midfielder must have been the first nuclear-powered South Korean in history, in the sense that he rushed about the pitch at the speed of an electron.
16/16 On the racists who abuse Mario Balotelli
They’re a truly horrendous bunch, a herd of frustrated individuals who’ve taken the worst of history and made it their own.
“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.”