Damage limitation

Adrian Mutu failed a drugs test in 2004 but is still being pursued by Chelsea. Matthew Barker examines the case

Adrian Mutu was in pre-season training with Fiorentina when the news came through. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne had rejected an appeal against a FIFA ruling that the Romanian should pay €17 million (£14.9m) to former employers Chelsea. In a public statement, the player called the punishment “profoundly unjust”, while Viola patron Diego Della Valle talked of arranging a sit-down with Roman Abramovich in order to solve the matter in a more civilised fashion.

Mutu was sacked by Chelsea in October 2004 after failing a random drugs test held the previous month, then banned from football by the FA for seven months and fined £20,000. Chelsea were fined £40,000 by the FA for carrying out a private test (ie without the sanction of the relevant football authorities), a penalty that drew an angry response from the club and may well have hardened their resolve to take the matter to FIFA.

The striker had a decent enough start at Stamford Bridge, scoring three goals in his first four games, before slipping down the pecking order. Stories at the time claimed Jose Mourinho ordered the test after the player missed a training session ahead of a Champions League tie against PSG. Mutu had fallen out with his manager after defying his orders and flying off to play for Romania the previous week, despite an apparent knee injury. The player admitted later to “almost hitting” Mourinho during the argument and told reporters the pair were “in open conflict”.

After a spell at Tony Adams’s Sporting Chance clinic, Mutu signed a four-and-a-half-year contract with Juventus in January 2005. Luciano Moggi, then the Turin club’s general manager, had tried to sign the striker from Chelsea the previous summer. This time, of course, Juve didn’t have to pay anything for his services. Playing under Fabio Capello, Mutu scored 11 times in 32 games; not great, but enough to convince Fiorentina to pay €8m for him in the sum­mer of 2006.

It was a move that immediately set alarm bells ringing at Chelsea. A claim for damages after breach of contract was taken to FIFA and (very) slowly set in motion. The original 38-page sentence was handed down in May of last year. FIFA came up with the final figure (€17,173,990 to be exact) by taking the transfer fee (€22.5m), dividing it by five (as in the length of the contract), then multiplying it by three (the number of years left on the contract), which makes €13.5m, with agent and other mediator fees then added on top.

Paolo Rodella, one of five lawyers hired by Mutu to fight his case, responded bullishly to the CAS rejection: “This is contrary to the law. We will fight this sentence in all the courts.” The next step will be a hearing at a Swiss civil court (which will need to be in place by September 15) and then, possibly, the European Court of Human Rights.

Whatever the eventual outcome, the case sets a huge precedent. As in plenty of other sports, recreational drug use in football is an increasing problem. Earlier this year, the Independent claimed that one Premier League player was attending a clinic to treat his addiction, paid for by his club, and that another two players were serving “secret bans”.

When Shaun Newton, at the time playing for West Ham, failed a test in 2006 he was given a seven-month ban (three months of which were served out of season), with the club publicly backing the midfielder’s attempts at rehabilitation. Chelsea’s determined pursuit of Mutu may initially be viewed with some distaste, but it’s all too easy to imagine other clubs going down a similar route, effectively bankrupting and ruining players for a misdemeanour which, out in the real world, would probably result in little more than a stern finger-wagging from the personnel department.

Mutu, now 30, has clearly matured and seems happy at Fiorentina, where he’s feted by fans as Il Fenomeno. However, many in Florence believe the player will leave at the end of the season (and the club have already started looking for his replacement).

Meanwhile, one teasing little twist surfaced the day after the CAS announcement. According to reports in the Italian press, on the day Mutu was presented by a beaming Moggi at the Stadio delle Alpi back in 2005, Juventus had promised to pay any fine that would result from the dispute with Chelsea. There were further rumours that an actual written agreement between player and club existed. Whether this would have then been cancelled when Mutu signed for Fiorentina isn’t clear; so far, none of the parties involved has commented on the story.

From WSC 272 October 2009