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Belgian medical chief Chris Goossens claims the recent failure of Italian clubs in Europe can be attributed to strict doping laws in Italy.

Goossens, who is chairman of the Belgian football league's medical association and also sits on the country's Anti-Doping committee, believes Italian clubs have been left behind in the battle for European honours because their players are less inclinced to take performance-enhancing drugs.

"In the 1990s, Italian football was comfortably the best in Europe," he explained. "But ever since strict controls and heavy punishments have been introduced, they have dropped off dramatically.

"It is now clear that Spain have taken Italy's mantle as the leading football nation. And I personally don't believe it is a coincidence that there is no other country in Europe where the doping regulations are so slack.

"Even in small mountain villages, you can virtually get anything you want subscribed to you by the doctor.

"In one in three chemists in Spain, they will deliver EPO do your door without even asking any questions."

Goossens, 44, admitted that he had no proof to back up his claims, but pointed to recent cases in Italy where Jaap Stam, Josep Guardiola, Fernando Couto, Edgar Davids, Stefano Torrisi, Jean Francoiis Gillet, Stefano Sacchetti and Nicola Caccia all received suspensions after testing positive for banned substances.

"The facts are there," he continued. "Clearly, there are some very good footballers in Spain, but taking certain substances can give you that little bit extra - and that can make all the difference in the modern game.

"In terms of strength and endurance, you can improve your performance up to 15 per cent by taking certain substances. If every player in a team is 15 per cent stronger, then it is bound to have an impact.

"I am not accusing the clubs of organising such things, but I have no doubt that there are players who decide off their own back to take such substances."

One player who has tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone in Spain this season is Barcelona's Frank de Boer.

The Holland defender was handed a one-year ban by Uefa last June, but this was significantly reduced after appeal and he returned to action in September.

Real Madrid midfielder Luis Figo questioned the validity of doping results in Italy in November after Guardiola tested positive for nandrolone. "It is weird that there are no scandals in the other leagues, despite continuous dope testing," he added.

"I talked with Guardiola on the phone yesterday. It is a very complicated situation. To demonstrate he didn't take any drugs is almost impossible."

Fifa president Sepp Blatter, however, had insisted in September that leading European clubs were to blame for the sudden spate of positive drug tests. "All they are interested in is their quotation on the stock market on Monday morning," he claimed.
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