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At a time when Real Sociedad should be basking in deserved praise and plaudits for a season that sees them currently just three points off the Champions League places in eighth, the club has instead been suffering the blowback from a scandal involving some alleged sins of the past. To put it in the bluntest possible terms, an accusation has been made by a former president of the San Sebastian side that suggests Real Sociedad purchased banned doping products between 2001 and 2007, in turn tainting one of the most successful campaigns of the club in its history.
Iñaki Badiola was president of Real Sociedad between January 4 and December 20 2008 and initially made allegations that doping products or "strange substances" had been bought by the club using laundered money under the stewardship of four different presidents between March 2001 to January 2008. These accusations were repeated to Spanish sports paper AS this week, with Badiola alleging that two club doctors who were fired by Badiola were given money "to buy medicine or products which were at this time, considered doping products. For this reason, they were purchased with laundered money on the black market".
An infamous figure who is currently at the centre of a doping trial in Spain called 'Operation Puerto', Eufemiano Fuentes, is alleged to have facilitated the purchase of these illicit products, which reportedly cost over €340,000 a year. On the same day as the publication of the interview, a member of the Civil Guard who ordered the initial arrest of Fuentes and the other defendants in the ongoing trial showed that the client name 'Rsoc' appears on documents taken from Fuentes, who joked that it sounded like "the name of a good wine" when questioned.
The time period of these allegations was one of Real Sociedad's most successful seasons - the 2002-03 campaign when the Basque club finished second, having finished in 13th the previous year. What was also newsworthy is the fact that the Real Sociedad president between 2001 and 2005, José Luis Astiazarán, is currently the president of the Spanish League (LFP), a position he has held since 2005.
A public statement was issued on the LFP website denying the allegations made by Badiola. "During the period of my presidency at Real Sociedad (2001-2005), I never had any knowledge nor suspicion of any illegal practices in relation to the medical services, who always showed exemplary ethical practice and professionalism. If I had suspected anything, I would have acted firmly on the matter."
Players with Real Sociedad during that time have also denied any wrongdoing. That list includes a current footballer, Xabi Prieto. "Of course we've never doped and never have seen anything strange in the ten years I've been here, absolutely nothing," refuted the midfielder. "Of course, these types of things damage the image of the club and should not happen. If someone saw something wrong then go to a court and report it."
Sander Westerveld, who was goalkeeper for Real Sociedad between 2001 and 2004, spoke to Dutch magazine 'Voetbal International' and revealed that some players received injections before and after matches but "I never saw or noticed anything out of the ordinary. I never believed that any substance would have helped my performances. We came second by playing quality football and tactics, not by playing physical football or running our hearts out for 90 minutes," added the Dutchman.
Spain's state Anti-Doping Agency has 'started proceedings' into the claims, so the story won't be going away for a while. This can only reinforce the admission from Xabi Prieto that it will take the shine away from a praiseworthy campaign from Real Sociedad, who have become one of the most attractive sides to watch in la Primera.
A run of just one defeat in 11 games from an outfit mainly made up of youth team products included the 5-2 thumping of Valencia in Mestalla and the only league defeat for Barcelona of the season. Indeed, the single loss still saw Real Sociedad putting three past Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabéu in a 4-3 defeat. Former Arsenal forward Carlos Vela is finally delivering on his promise with the Mexican scoring nine league goals this season after 12 goals in the last campaign.
Unfortunately, many of the praiseworthy achievements of the present are currently being overshadowed by alleged sins of the past, in a scandal involving an extremely sensitive topic in Spanish sport and a figure currently in charge of the country's football league. As much as Real Sociedad would like the topic to go away, it isn't likely to happen any time soon.
Tim Stannard - follow him on Twitter