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Examining the Rise of DNA Testing in Football

Romelu Lukaku will look to use his hulking frame to good effect for new club Manchester United.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Football has become a battleground for sports science, and DNA testing is the latest weapon being wielded by clubs looking to gain an advantage. In effect, teams are aiming to win games long before the ball is placed in the centre circle. Instead—ushering in a new era of player management—lab tests are capable of analysing 45 genes within the human body to tell the strength and conditioning team everything about their squad’s biological makeup.

The most publicised incident of this was featured in MailOnline earlier this year, ahead of Barcelona’s Champions League clash with Arsenal, when it was reported: “Barcelona doctor Ricard Pruna is overseeing the groundbreaking approach to player welfare at the club.

“Pruna has been taking saliva through swabs in the players’ mouths and studying 45 different genes. The DNA in the saliva allows the club to work out muscle problems and to put together fitness programmes tailored for each player.”

What this means is coaches can identify players who may be genetically predisposed to sprint faster or run farther or even pinpoint players who are more prone to injury by monitoring whose muscles have less resistance to inflammation.

But does this give an unfair advantage to teams who can afford the new technology, and should football be played in the laboratory? Also, is it ethical to have children from academies tested, prodded and probed, to have their physiology tweaked and tailored to suit a certain position within the club? And could the men in white coats have helped the troubled careers of George Best and Paul Gascoigne and added longevity to Brazil’s two-time Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldo, who famously struggled with genetically inherited weight problems?

Ronaldo led Brazil to World Cup glory in 2002 but struggled with his weight.DUSAN VRANIC/Associated Press/Associated Press

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