The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has banned Napoli midfielder Daniele Mannini and Brescia striker Davide Possanzini for a year after both arrived late for drug tests when they were teammates for the Serie B outfit.
The pair, who were late for a routine post-match doping test in December 2007 against Chievo, were initially banned for 15 days in March 2008 by the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) but the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) appealed to CAS and asked for tougher sentences.
Mannini moved to Napoli in January last year for a reported 7m euros and the 25-year-old has contributed to their impressive form in Serie A, while 32-year-old Possanzini has been at Brescia since 2005.
The severity of the punishments prompted criticism from the Italian Footballers' Association (AIC) and Mannini's lawyer was stunned by the decision.
"It is a shocking and unbelievable sentence," lawyer Mattia Grassani said. "Mannini and Possanzini have been treated... like full-blown doping athletes. They never took doping substances. CAS knows this."
The President of the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) Giancarlo Abete said he was perplexed by a sentence that seemed excessive to him. "A year's ban for what turned out to be a logistical problem seems excessive," Abete said, adding that the federation was looking at a way to appeal.
The AIC expressed indignation and said it would immediately convene a meeting to decide on protests against an "unacceptable" verdict which was "unjustified from every standpoint".
"The AIC Management Board will be immediately called to decide on what initiatives can be taken as a sign of protest at a sentence that is unacceptable, disproportionate with respect to the length of a footballer's career, unjustified from all points of view," read a statement on the association's official website.
Napoli Sporting Director Pierpaolo Marino called the verdict "a colossal injustice".
"We signed the player after the event and so I can judge this objectively," Marino said. "It seems absurd to me that this decision has compromised the careers of two players who weren't even taking banned substances."
Brescia's coach at the time, Serse Cosmi, said he was "certain that nothing was done to dodge the doping test".
"My feeling is that (the CAS) decided to strike weak links to set an example," said Cosmi.
Brescia President Gino Corioni reiterated his assertion that the players were delayed because of his decision to give the team a dressing down after the 3-0 home defeat.
As a result, he repeated, the pair just missed the half-hour deadline for submitting samples. Corioni stressed that a doping official, whose job it is not to lose sight of the chosen players, was invited into the dressing room but declined.
"The two lads didn't do anything wrong, it isn't fair," Corioni added.
As Mannini and Possanzini have already served a suspension of 15 days, the duo will next be available for selection for their respective teams on January 14, 2010.
Source: Reuters / ANSA