Borgonovo in gehrig shock
Former AC Milan and Fiorentina striker Stefano Borgonovo has revealed he is suffering from a killer nerve disease that appears to strike ex-footballers more than others.
Borgonovo, 44, is the second well-known player to be hit by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a form of motor neurone disease also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.
It killed ex-Genoa captain Gianluca Signorini in 2002 at the age of 42.
''I, Stefano Borgonovo, am suffering from ALS,'' a bed-bound and paralysed Borgonovo told reporters in a computer-generated voice that tracks his eye movements.
Borgonovo, who played with Roberto Baggio in Florence and was Marco Van Basten's understudy at Milan, said he has set up a foundation to aid research into Lou Gehrig's Disease, which is named after the US baseball hero who was the first top sportsman to die from it, at 37 in 1941.
''I want to find the money for researchers to find the penicillin of 2008,'' said the 42-year-old, who won three Italy caps.
Borgonovo, who scored 14 goals in his 1989 season with Fiorentina and netted the winner that put Milan through to its second straight winning Champions League Final in 1990, first started showing signs of the disease in 2005, when he began losing control of his speech.
Like other Gehrig's patients, his descent has been swift and he now has no control over his arms, legs or most body functions including speech.
But he vowed to fight the merciless condition.
''What if I became the first to cheat this?'', he said.
Borgonovo rejected suggestions that soccer injuries, drugs and possibly turf chemicals play a part in a condition that strikes ex-soccer players many times more than the general population.
He refused to believe that the game he loved could be killing him.
''I love soccer too much to believe this is a football disease,'' he said.
But the evidence is mounting up.
TURF CHEMICALS MIGHT PLAY A PART, SAYS PROSECUTOR.
Raffaele Guariniello, a Turin prosecutor who is investigating the early deaths of more than 40 ex-footballers from Gehrig's, said:
''Among the hypotheses we are focusing on are the use of doping substances and the repetitive stress or cumulative trauma of being hit on the legs or heading the ball so much.
''A third hypothesis, which we are putting a lot of work into, is the use of toxic substances to maintain pitches''.
Guariniello said the latest data indicated that professional soccer players were six times more likely to get Gehrig's than others.
His team has just completed a survey of former basketball players and cyclists, failing to find one case.
In another, ongoing probe, it has yet to uncover any incidence of ALS among rugby players.
''There seems to be some factor that is specific to soccer, which we are trying to identify''.
The news of Borgonovo's condition, and the sight of him on Sky TV and in the Corriere della Sera newspaper, shocked Italy players at training camp for Saturday's World Cup qualifier in Cyprus.
''People are spooked,'' said Angelo Peruzzi, the former Lazio goalie who is now assistant to coach Marcello Lippi.
World Cup icon Fabio Cannavaro said ''you have to be worried, looking at the statistics''.
The Real Madrid defender, who was cleared in a doping controversy after the publication of photos of him having an injection before Parma's 1999 UEFA Cup win against Marseilles, said:
''I don't think you can blame the drugs people used to take too carelessly in the past, because the players who have been struck down belong to various generations''.
Goalie Gianluigi Buffon said the Borgonovo revelation ''makes you prick up your ears''.
''It hits you all the more because it's someone who did the very same things that you are doing,'' the Juve keeper said.
Lippi said he had been one of the few already aware of Borgonovo's plight.
''What struck me is his great dignity and strength, in this extremely difficult time. And he doesn't blame soccer''.