Blood-Spinning: Bending The Rules

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All you have to do is play better than the other guy and things go well. If you don’t
play better than the other players then somebody takes your place. ¨
– Bill Parcels

Lionel Messi’s injury ahead of Wednesday’s PSG clash has ignited the discussions of footballers rigorous playing schedules and the effect that it takes on physical health. Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, it has been recently revealed is, ‘having his blood spun.’

Football teams competing domestically and internationally have a heavy-load to carry each season. For example, if we take either Real Madrid or Barcelona into account, we can assume they will play anywhere between 70-85 matches per season, (38 – La Liga, 10-13 Champions League, + Copa Del Rey, Supercopa, and friendlies).

In a squad like F.C Barcelona, (which many consider to have infrequent rotations in the starting lineup), a footballer has to play 75 matches (give or take), which significantly increases the risk of potential burn-out or a career-threatening injury.

According to a recent article by Marca magazine, Messi has played consecutively for three years without suffering a serious injury. Seemingly immune to everything but slight bumps and bruises, the last major Messi scare came in 2010, after a nasty tackle by Ujfalusi, which left him sidelined for 10 days. In the current La Liga season, he has only missed 19 minutes of playing time, coming in as a substitute against Getafe and Deportivo.

It is essential for a squad to cutting edge medical treatment in order to go head-to-head with the rigorous playing schedules of top footballers, which is perhaps why we have seen several major teams turn to the increasingly popular yet controversial treatment of platlet-rich plasma therapy.

Platlet-rich plasma therapy, more simply known as ¨blood spinning¨ uses the athletes own blood to rehabilitate injuries. It basically consists of drawing an athletes blood, placing it in a machine that is called a centrifuge, which spins the blood around as it rotates in the tube. This procedure allows the platelets and plasma to be isolated from other components in the blood. It is later injected back into the site of extraction and promotes healing, in fact, an injury may heal up to 7x faster using this
therapy.

There have been several known blood-spinning cases in the world of sports, including Kobe Bryant, who travelled to Dusseldorf Germany for the procedure, and later recommended it to baseball star Alex Rodriguez. In the world of football, the public discourse is fairly new, although the treatment has surely been widespread for quite some time now.

Jose Mourinho introduced the procedure to Chelsea F.C, where he appointed Dr. Bryan English, who previously worked for the Athens Olympic games. Peter Cech was one of the athletes that participated in the treatment, and Mourinho ¨let the cat out of the bag¨ when he stated in a press conference,

Of course I think Cech could play,’ Mourinho said. ‘I don’t listen to those reports that he’s out for a month or more. Dr Needles can get him healthy enough to play — and play well.’

Other well-known cases include Arjen Robben, and most recently Tottenham’s Jermain Defoe, who received the treatment for his pelvic injury. Andre Villas-Boas publicly backed the treatment,stating,

“It is a technique that we have been using since the beginning of the season. It is not common but does happen from club to club.”.

Andres Iniesta is another footballer that has allegedly used the treatment. Dr. Steven Sampson, a pioneer of blood-spinning who treats patients from his clinic on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, enthusiastically commented on one of his success stories,

¨There was this football superstar — I can’t tell you his name — who came to me two days before the championship match. And he had suffered an ugly injury. I was a bit nervous, because there really was no margin for error given the time frame. But I applied PRP therapy and he was able to compete. I remember one of the commentators on the TV wondering how he healed so fast.”

Perhaps this is a reference to the injured Blaugrana man who suffered an injury during the 2009 UEFA Champions League competition, yet recovered in time to put on a show in Rome against the English giants. But why so hush-hush about the treatment? What is the big secret that nobody wants to let out?

It is important to clarify that blood-spinning is different from blood doping. The latter consists of taking blood from an athlete weeks before an event and then re-injecting it just before the competition because there is a larger amount of oxygen-carrying red blood cells that can significantly increase endurance and the level of performance. Blood spinning, however, involves drawing and injecting platlets into a the site of injury to promote healing. The plasma does not carry an extra amount of oxygen or other performance enhancing benefits.

The difference lies in the location of re-introduction into the athletes body. If the PRP’s are injected into the joint, there will be no performance enhancing benefits.

However, if the PRP’s are injected into the muscle, there may be performance benefits, which is why theAnti-Doping Agency banned this type of PRP injection in 2010. However, the ban was lifted due to inconclusive evidence that did not guarantee the enhancement in all cases. It is still unclear whether blood spinning injections into the muscle can circulate cytokine levels, or have any anabolic effects.

The problem is that it is undetectable and the treatment can be manipulated. Other critics have argued that the plasma can absorb and dissolve steroids while it is being rotated in the centrifuge, giving the footballer an undetectable ¨dope-like¨ injection.

F.C Barcelona and Real Madrid have both received their fair share of doping rumours in recent years, including the 2006 Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes doping scandal where he hinted at treating Real Madrid players with blood transfusions. Real Madrid threatened to file a lawsuit immediately afterward.

Furthermore, there is the case of Dr.Ramon Segura and Pep Guardiola, a story that has plagued the club for years. When Guardiola tested positive for nandrolone while playing for Brescia in Italy in 2001, he was undergoing treatment from his long-time physician. Dr. Ramon Segura still works for F.C Barcelona as one of the head members of the medical team.

There are endless amounts of suspicious stories that include squads from every league in the world, including EPO and ¨Old Lady¨ Juventus, Fuentes and the Real Sociedad scandal, Parma and the pre-match blood transfusions that left former Argentine midfielder Matias Almeyda feeling like he could ¨jump as high as the ceiling¨ and even Maradona’s 1994 urine samples that tested positive for ephedrine, norephedrine, pseudoephedrine, norpseudoephedrine and metephedrine.

The issue is not about controversial medical procedures, but rather, are these successfully potent treatments being manipulated? Where do we draw the line and how can we track those who are breaking the boundaries of athleticism? To what point can we expect footballers to perform at their peak without breaking down or resorting to other means to increase the quality of their performance?
Is football using cutting-edge procedures or do we have a modern day game that is full of illegal techniques revealed to the public when the curtain falls?

 

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