Xavier hit with 18-month ban for steroid use

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The Independent Football

Middlesbrough's Abel Xavier was yesterday banned from football for 18 months by Uefa for taking anabolic steroids.

The 32-year-old Portugal international defender, who tested positive for dianabol after a Uefa Cup match on 29 September, is the first player in Premiership history to be banned for using performance-enhancing substances, as opposed to recreational drugs. He is also the first player from any era of the English game to be banned for using anabolic steroids. Dianabol, also known as methandienone, is most often used by bodybuilders.

Xavier's failed test followed a match against Xanthi in Greece, and an analysis of his B sample confirmed the initial finding.

"The player was found guilty of being in breach of Uefa anti-doping regulations," a statement from the European governing body said. "As a result, the Uefa control and disciplinary body decided to impose an 18-month ban on Abel Xavier."

Xavier was given his suspension following a personal hearing at Uefa's headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland. He has three days to appeal after receiving written notification of the ruling, and has indicated he will do so. He has denied any wrongdoing, and last month issued a statement saying he was "convinced that there is a reasonable and entirely harmless explanation for such a positive finding, should it be confirmed by the analysis of the B sample."

Xavier is thought to have claimed to Uefa that he took the dianabol unknowingly after buying a contaminated supplement in America to help him recover from a virus.

Though Xavier is the first player in modern English football to be banned for using performance-enhancing drugs of any kind, he is not the first to be caught using them. Billy Turley tested positive for nandrolone in 2002, when he was a goalkeeper at Rushden & Diamonds.

The Football Association issued him with a warning. He was later banned for six months for testing positive for cocaine, which is deemed to be a recreational drug. He is now with Oxford United.

The only player in British football to have been banned for taking steroids before yesterday was Andy Moran, a striker the Welsh Premier League side Rhyl. He was banned last year for seven months after testing positive for nandrolone. He blamed contaminated food supplements.

Xavier has been banned by Uefa before, but not for using drugs. His previous suspension - initially meant to be nine months, but reduced to three on appeal - was for manhandling an assistant referee during Portugal's Euro 2000 semi-final against France.

Xavier, who was born in Mozambique, joined Middlesbrough at the end of August after a spell in Serie A with Roma. His first English club was Everton, whom he joined in 1999 from PSV Eindhoven. He had previously played for Benfica and Bari, and moved from Goodison to Liverpool in January 2002. He had a loan spell with Galatasaray.

Xavier has played 20 times for Portugal and had hoped to earn a recall for next year's World Cup. His future at Boro remains uncertain. "We are aware of the decision and the clear implications it has for Abel and for his contract with Middlesbrough Football Club," a spokesman said. By failing a drugs test Xavier has almost certainly committed a sackable offence.

Middlesbrough's manager Steve McClaren, who spent yesterday in transit to the Netherlands for his side's Uefa Cup match against AZ Alkmaar tonight, insisted there was no place for drugs in football.

"We are going to take a couple of days to digest everything before we put out a full statement and decide what to do," he said. "It's disappointing, but our reaction will come in the next couple of days.There isn't [any place for drugs in football], for whatever reason. We will always condemn that. In this situation, it's just unfortunate that our club, Middlesbrough, is involved."

Unless Xavier has his ban overturned on appeal, the club's stance so far suggests his Boro career will end with the sack. Xavier signed only a 12-month contract in August.