Former Argentina and Parma midfielder Matías Almeyda lifts the lid on his experiences in Serie A in his astonishing book Almeyda: Life and Soul.
The current coach of River Plate who played for Inter, Lazio, Milan and Parma in his time in Italy, the Argentinean reveals not only his battle with alcoholism, but his brushes with mysterious clandestine forces and the spectre of match-fixing in the Italian top league.
It's nothing new that some footballer struggle with the demon drink, but it's something you associate more with the English Premiership than Serie A, nevertheless, Almeyda recounts how he came close to the edge after one particular binge.
Throughout my career I smoked 10 cigarettes a day. Alcohol was also a problem. I burned everything off in training but I lived on the limits," Almeyda writes. "Once in Azul, my country, I drank five litres of wine, like Coca Cola, and I ended up in some kind of coma. To try to get it out of my system I ran five kilometres until I saw the sun spinning.
"A doctor put me on a drip for five hours. It would have been a scandal as at the time I was playing for Inter. When I woke up and I saw my whole family around the bed, I thought it was my funeral."
It is shocking to think of the kind of backroom dealings that went on in football's recent history, and for all we know are prevalent even today. As the sport of cycling tries finally to exorcise itself of the scourge of doping, we are reminded of the prevalence of drugs in all sports, somehow football has so far emerged unscathed by doping allegations, but Almeyda provides a timely suggestion that the beautiful game may not be as clean as we all believe.
"At Parma we were given an IV drip before games," he recalls. "They said it was a mixture of vitamins but before entering the field I was able to jump up as high as the ceiling.
"Players do not ask questions but then in the following years there are cases of former players dying from heart problems, suffering from muscular issues and more. I think it is the consequence of the things that have been given to them."
On his depression, an illness that afflicts a surprising amount of professional footballers, particularly when dealing with injury he writes: “At Inter, after a couple of bad injuries, my depression began. I had nothing to do except think and one day I couldn’t feel my hand, then lost the feeling down half my body. An Inter psychologist diagnosed me with panic attacks, but I didn’t follow her instructions.
“Only after my daughter drew a picture of me as a tired and sad lion did I realise I had to do something. From that day, I regularly take anti-depressants and medication to help suppress my panic attacks. They make me a better person.”
Perhaps the biggest shock of the book is when Almeyda alleges Parma where asked to 'throw' the Scudetto deciding game against Roma on June 17th 2001. “Some of my Parma teammates told me the Roma players wanted us to lose the game,” wrote Almeyda.
“As we were mid-table and not playing for any particular objective, they said it wouldn’t make a difference to us.
“I said no, so did Nestor Sensini and the majority of my teammates. However, on the field I saw some who did not run as hard as they usually did. So I asked to be substituted and went to the locker room.
“Was money involved? I don’t think so, they called it ‘a favour.’”
Interesting, but with no basis in fact is his assumption that a break-in in his home had some connection to a disagreement he had with the former Parma president and owner Stefano Tanzi. "I had a fight with Stefano Tanzi and several days later I woke up to find my new car was missing from the garage," he wrote. "Milosevic was also in conflict with the club with a contract as high as mine and the same thing happened.
"One day my wife comes home and hears voices inside. She ran away and called the police. There was a message on the wall, made with machine oil, a message from the mafia. My wife had a premature birth. Following the 2002 World Cup I've never been back to Parma."
Sensational stuff from the fascinating world of Italian football, we'll leave it up to you to decide if Almeyda's memories are a true reflection of the state of the game in Italy. For sure, there are few leagues in the world that can rival Serie A for scandal and subterfuge.
By Hugo Mc Cafferty
Gazzetta dello Sport