Saadi Al-Gaddafi, the football-mad son of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was facing a ban from playing in Italy yesterday after testing positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone.
Mr Gaddafi, aged 30, was signed by Serie-A side Perugia at the start of the season in a blaze of publicity, as the first son of a foreign head of state to play football professionally in Europe.
But he has yet to make it onto the pitch. His debut was delayed first because of a problem with registering his contract, and subsequently due to a back injury. Last month Perugia said Gaddafi could not play because he was a member of the board of directors of a rival Serie-A side, Juventus. He resigned from Juventus, but was still stuck on the bench. Now he may be out of action for many months, depending on what action the Italian Football League chooses to take. Players in Italy are selected for drug testing at random, regardless of whether or not they have played.
Luciano Gaucci, the flamboyant president of Perugia, blamed foreign doctors for the test results.
"The player had back problems," he said, "and for months he has been going to Germany to be treated by a doctor there. Basically the news [of the positive result] is not a surprise. It's not a secret that certain medicines contain substances that are forbidden for players. But he deserves a prize for all the work he has put in, and he wants to remain close to the team. He is not to blame at all, he is like an innocent in our society. We told him to get himself treated in Italy, and we were ready to advise him. But he preferred to go abroad."
Mr Gaddafi was not available for comment.
Mr Gaucci said he had not spoken to the player since the result was announced, though he had had words with some Libyan government officials.
"They think it's all being done to create a scandal," he said. "I calmed them down, because the Italian football league wouldn't have any reason to do something like that."
Mr Gaddafi is only the latest in a string of sensational signings to Perugia by Mr Gaucci, who is also a prominent race-horse owner.
He was the first to bring Japanese, Korean, Iranian and African players to Italy. His most recent and controversial idea was to find a woman to play in his otherwise all- male team.
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