1994 to 1998: When Juventus ruled Serie A and the world through doping

Italian football has a history that is filled with brilliance, but also with controversy. In the 1990s, Italian football was rocked by a Juventus doping scandal, but what exactly happened?

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After almost a decade without lifting the Serie A title, the 1994/95 season brought about the start of a wonderful on-field period for Juventus, as they finally reclaimed the Scudetto for the first time since 1985/16, and the Coppa Italia for the first time since 1989/90.

A year later, the Bianconeri added the Champions League and eventually the Intercontinental Cup, but after two more Serie A titles, a doping scandal emerged in 1998 that called into question the legitimacy of those successes.

The investigation and eventual trial would take over six years, as superstars like Zinedine Zidane and Alessandro Del Piero, who were then alleged to have received performance-enhancing treatment from club doctor Riccardo Agricola, continued to propel the Bianconeri to even more silverware under a cloud of suspicion.

Juventus celebrate their 1996 Champions League win. (@juventusfcen)

Juventus doping scandal: How was the Serie A drug scandal of the late-1990s uncovered?

After initially joining the medical team in 1985, Juventus promoted Agricola to the top job amongst a raft of changes in 1994 and while the team began to flourish on the pitch, they came with systematic doping practices he oversaw and stained the legacy of one of the most successful periods in the club’s history.

It was an interview in 1998 with AS Roma coach Zdenek Zeman that sparked the investigation, though, as Zeman raged at widespread doping throughout Italian football, but singled out the Bianconeri as a key offender and caught the attention of Turin prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello.

What was the extent of the Juventus doping controversy?

When the authorities raided Juventus’ facilities, they uncovered a staggering 281 different drugs that highlighted the scale of the operation under Agricola. It was reported that they administered cocktails of substances including erythropoietin and testosterone under the guise of legitimate treatment.

Not all the medication was illegal, like the anti-inflammatory and painkiller, Voltaren, but it was not intended for substantial and continuous use, rather for occasional treatment.

Juventus’ Alessandro Del Piero skips away from Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs in 1996. (@juventusfcen)

With the likes of Alessandro Birindelli, Alessio Tacchinardi, and Michele Padovano finding themselves embroiled in the controversy, it wasn’t just the Juventus doctor who had his once unimpeachable career and reputation under threat. The doping scandal sent shockwaves through the Italian and European football community, and raised questions about the prevalence of doping within the sport.

At the trial on February 14, 2002, medical specialists provided crucial testimony that illustrated the extent of the doping regime and its potential impact on player performance and even the long-term health risks. That ultimately resulted in Agricola being sentenced to 22 months in jail and served as a wake-up call for Italian football, sparking calls for the FIGC (Italian Football Federation) to install stricter anti-doping measures and greater accountability.

Juventus doping scandal: What punishment did the Bianconeri receive?

The revelations prompted swift action and the FIGC fined Juventus a record €100,000 for their role in the scandal. As well, their reputation, and that of Serie A, took a significant hit, but the nine major honours won between 1994 and 1998 remained untouched.

The decision not to revoke Juventus’ titles during the period in question came much to the disappointment of the then-Ajax coach Louis van Gaal. After losing the 1996 Champions League final to the Bianconeri on penalties in Rome, Van Gaal called for the Old Lady to be stripped of trophies collected during the period in which the doping scandal occurred.

However, unlike the Calciopoli scandal in 2006, when Juventus lost titles and even their top-flight status largely due to the actions of managing director Luciano Moggi, the authorities seemed content to separate the actions of Agricola and the Bianconeri as a club.

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