Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Italian Doctor: 'No Puerta's in Italy'

Tragic football deaths like that of Sevilla's young defender Antonio Puerta are not possible in Italy, according to the Italian doctor who famously spotted Nigeria striker Nwankwo Kanu's heart problem.

In an interview on Tuesday in the online daily, Piero Volpi said Puerta would not have passed Italian football's rigorous screening process.

"In Italy Puerta would not have been deemed fit," said Volpi, who detected Kanu's life-threatening heart valve anomaly after the Nigerian moved to Inter in 1996.

Volpi, currently a consultant for the Italian Footballers' Association - Assocalciatori, said Sevilla may not have "thoroughly" carried out tests after heart flutters emerged in the 22-year-old Puerta before his dramatic collapse in a Saturday night game against Getafe.

According to the Italian expert, Italy is alone in having a central vetting institute solely devoted to rooting out health problems in would-be professionals.

He cited the case of Senegal midfielder Khalilou Fadiga, whose 2003 move to Inter from French club Auxerre was sunk by heart scans.

Despite this, Fadiga the next year moved on to English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers after a heart operation, Volpi noted - but has hardly played since.

In Puerta's case, Volpi acknowledged that the genetic defect that caused his death was probably "deeply hidden". But he went on: "That is no justification because there are sophisticated tests that can provide a diagnosis".

Arrhythmia, or irregular heart beat, has been the root of several fatal heart attacks in top-level sport in the last 30 years.

In 2004 three football players - Hungarian Miklos Feher, Cameroon's Vivien Foe, and Brazilian Serginho (Paolo Sergio de Oliveira Silvho) - died when their hearts gave out on the field of play.

Kanu, who would have died if his aortic valve had not been replaced, went on to become the most decorated player in African footballing history, adding two Premier League and two FA Cups, both for Arsenal, to his 1995 Champions League medal for Ajax.

At the age of 31, he is continuing his Premiership career at Portsmouth after a spell with West Bromwich Albion. Twice named African Player of the Year, he has earned 40 international caps and scored 10 goals for Nigeria.

In the late 1990's he set up a foundation to help African children with heart problems.

Source: ANSA

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