Dope pest

Adrian Mutu's failed drugs test is just the latest, albeit highest-profile, indication of the doping problem sweeping Romanian football, writes Ben Lyttleton

The biggest surprise about the reaction in Romania to Adrian Mutu’s positive drugs test was that anyone was surprised: a week earlier, three Farul Constanta players were banned for failing dope tests, while Robert Sandu, nephew of FA president Mircea Sandu, is awaiting trial for dealing large amounts of drugs to a client list allegedly packed with high-profile sports stars.

And yet Romanian football’s big names backed Mutu when the story broke. National-team captain Cristian Chivu refused to believe his team-mate would be so stupid, while the side’s doctor, Pompiliu Popescu, claimed the test was positive because the forward drank Red Bull. Romania’s assistant coach Marius Lacatus even accused Chelsea of setting up the player to get him off the wage-bill.

Only after Mutu admitted that he took a banned substance – which may not turn out to be cocaine – did the conspiracy theories stop. Romania coach Anghel Iordanescu’s first concern was the effect a Mutu ban would have on his team’s excellent start in their World Cup qualifying group, which they lead from Holland and the Czech Republic. “Adrian scored two match-winning goals for us and now we must help save his career, not bury it,” he said. “People have said they are ashamed to be the same nationality as him but that is stupid. Let’s just help the boy.”

Romania’s Professional League chairman Dumitru Dragomir is held responsible for the latest series of drugs scandals. His credibility was queried in 2002, when he helped Cristian Buturuga and Adrian Neaga escape punishment for banned sub­stances by ruling that medical staff at their club, Arges Pitesti, had inadvertently drugged the whole team. Arges had fallen under suspicion for using banned substances in 1998 after an unbeaten run of nine games – but the matter was taken no further as drugs tests were considered too expensive (at around £300).

Dragomir has now promised to improve testing procedures, “to avoid this becoming a problem”. He is a bit late for that: drugs were blamed for the death of Dinamo Bucharest and Romania midfielder Catalin Haldan, who died during a reserve match in October 2000. Ioan Dragan, president of the anti-doping commission, confirmed that Haldan had hepatitis C when he died, but claimed that his symptoms suggested an over-consumption of anabolic steroids. Mutu was Haldan’s team-mate at the time and was a coffin-bearer at his funeral. The position of FA president Sandu is still untouchable despite the case against his nephew. Sandu’s daughter Raluca has fled a drugs charge of her own in Romania and is currently in the United States with a former boyfriend. The pair were questioned after a drugs bust in November 2002 when armed police burst into Bucharest nightclub The Office and found cocaine on the table at which Walter Zenga and Dan Petrescu were sitting. No charges were brought on that occasion.

Sandu has warned the rest of the Romania team that they will receive “random” tests soon to counter rumours that Mutu is not the only guilty player. “We have to check the others, as some of them have shown a lack of respect in thinking that just because they have money from football, they can do whatever they want.”

Sandu may also have been referring to the sting involving porn star Laura Andresan, who in July was photographed by scandal-mag Atac having sex with four Romanian players, including Mutu and West Brom’s out-of-favour mid­fielder Cosmin Contra. The story exploded because Atac’s editor Mihai Ghezea claimed that some players had tried to pay him off to prevent him publishing the photos.

Mutu and Andresan exchanged barbs in the press, after which Andresan dramatically threatened to sue the striker for defamation. If there is any good news to come out of Mutu’s test, it is that he now has Andresan’s sympathy. “I will drop my case with him,” she said, “because he now has serious problems and I feel sorry for him.” But that is the only good news. As the captain of Mutu’s former side Dinamo, Florentin Petre, said: “The whole Mutu case has complicated the credibility of Romanian football. Our mission to improve football’s image here is very difficult indeed.”

And when the Robert Sandu drugs trial comes to court later this year, it may bring more naming and shaming to the Romanian game.

From WSC 214 December 2004. What was happening this month