He left like a thief in the night, slipping out of Italy via Rome airport in the early hours of April 2, 1991. For once, Diego Armando Maradona's return to his native Buenos Aires was not accompanied by a blaze of publicity.
Rather he was ignored by fellow passengers who failed to recognise the world's most famous footballer, somewhat "camouflaged" by three-day stubble, sun glasses, leather coat and blue jeans.
Maradona ran from Italy five days before an Italian Football Federation Disciplinary Board gave him a 15-month, subsequently worldwide, ban from soccer for cocaine abuse. Traces of cocaine had been found in a urine sample taken from Maradona during a random dope test following a game between his club, Napoli, and Bari on March 17.
The celebrated Maradona doping "case" of 1991 might have been the most highly publicised of its kind in Italian soccer but it was neither the first nor the last.
Routine dope testing was introduced to Italian soccer only in 1961, too late to offer any evidence with regard to practices in the mid to late 1950s, when Italian football first attracted speculation surrounding stimulant abuse. Indeed, the late Danny Blanchflower, writing in The Double and Before in 1961, recalled one incident from Northern Ireland's duels with Italy in the World Cup qualifiers in 1957: "Then Schiaffino . . . flung himself brutally and deliberately into little Wilbur Cush. It seemed so much out of character with the beautiful style of his play. There was a vacant expression in his eyes when the referee cautioned him. `Do you think he's drugged?' Jimmy McIlroy asked me."
The ltalo-Uruguayan Juan Schiaffino was at the centre of one scare story in December 1957, when Milan played Rangers in the Champions Cup. All sorts of speculation followed claims that Schiaffino and team-mate Gastone Bean had approached Scottish officials seeking syringes.
Later Rangers manager Scot Symon said: "Schiaffino cannot speak English but we understood eventually from Bean, who does speak a little English, that Schaffino has been having medical treatment for anaemia. He carries his injection solutions with him and has them twice a week. As far as I know, the substance contains only liver extract."
In April 1962 a number of Internazionale players were named by the Italian league as having taken pep pills before matches. Ultimately three unnamed players were suspended for two matches each for testing positive to stimulant abuse. No action was taken against four other Inter players under suspicion.
A year later seven Napoli players were suspended briefly on drug charges by the Italian football authorities, while the club were in the middle of a Cup- winners' Cup campaign. Napoli were fined £3.000.
But the biggest scandal of those years was undoubtedly the Bologna affair, documented by Brian Glanville. Following the storm generated by the Bologna case, doping rather disappeared from the Italian soccer planet. The next recorded incident did not come until 24 years later, in March 1988, when Verona defender Silvano Fontolan tested positive after a UEFA Cup home tie against Werder Bremen.
Fontolan was found to have taken Micoren, an amphetamine, and accordingly he received a year's suspension, while Verona were fined $30,000 dollars. Bremen went on to win the tie, but for the then 33- year-old Fontolan, the ban brought his first-class career to a (slightly) premature end.
Two years later, doping again made Italian soccer headlines when two AS Roma players, striker Andrea Carnevale (now with Udinese) and goalkeeper Angelo Peruzzi (now with Juventus), tested positive following a Roma-Bari league game at the Olympic Stadium on September 23, 1990.
During the subsequent inquiry, Roma, then led by the legendary Christian Democrat Senator, the late Dino Viola behaved disgracefully. The club and the two players between them managed to offer three different explanations as to how traces of "Fentermine were found in the players' samples.”
By and large, the players claimed that they had 'taken the substance unwittingly via a weight watcher's pill, Lipopill, which they had borrowed from Peruzzi's mother and which they had taken to help shake off the effects of an over-enthusiastic restaurant meal, three nights before the Bari game.’ The Federation Disciplinary Board did not believe the excuses, banning both players for a year and fining the club $100,000 dollars. Intrigue was added to the case when a disconsolate Carnevale told television viewers on the day after the sentence:
"I would have told the truth right from the start but the club forced me to stay silent."
Roma again found themselves in the eye of a doping storm only three years later, in March 1993, when their Argentine striker Claudio Caniggia tested positive after a 1-1 home draw with Napoli on March 21.
Traces of cocaine had been found in Caniggia's sample and although the player at first denied the allegations, he subsequently admitted to having taken cocaine at a midweek party, in the mistaken belief that coach Vujadin Boskov would drop him for Sunday's game.
At the time, Caniggia was on the way back from injury and was in constant battle with Serbian Sinisa Mihajlovic, German Thomas Hassler and Brazilian Aldair for one of the three foreign player berths. Caniggia's error cost him a Maradona-style 15-month ban from which he returned just on the eve of this summer's World Cup to play a prominent part in Argentina's short-lived USA '94 campaign.
Caniggia, Carnevale and Peruzzi (and indeed Bologna) all recovered from their dope suspensions to resume their careers and continue on down the soccer track. Even Maradona came back from suspension, although his comeback via Sevilla, Newell's Old Boys and Argentina ended in mid-summer disgrace this year.
One player for whom a 15-month sentence for cocaine use appears to have had more drastic consequences was Edoardo Bortolotti, who spent last season with Third Division Palazzolo, but is now thought to be out of professional soccer.
Three years ago, Bortolotti was a promising defender with Second Division Brescia and one of the most useful defenders in the then Under-21 team coached by Cesare Maldini. His suspension, after failing a dope test, seems to have destroyed a potentially brilliant career. For some, the price paid for a doping offence is high.
This article originally appeared in the November 1994 edition of World Soccer Magazine. You can subscribe for a ridiculously low sum by clicking here.
Thanks to Dan from the outstanding Three Match Ban for his help publishing.