Offside, 14 November

The non-playing Australian goalkeeper and his Bolivian marching powder.

Duleep Allirajah

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It’s been a week of mixed fortunes for fat Australians. While portly leg-spinner Shane Warne was celebrating after Australia annihilated England in the first Ashes test, his compatriot Mark Bosnich was consulting his lawyers after it was reported that the Chelsea goalkeeper had tested positive for cocaine.

If Bosnich has indeed been dipping his snout in the Bolivian marching powder then he faces the termination of his contract and a lengthy ban from football. Bosnich, should he be found guilty, would be the most high-profile Premiership footballer to have failed a drug test. It would also complete the goalkeeper’s ignominious descent from golden boy of Aussie soccer to international object of ridicule. Where did it all go round for Bozza?

The Socceroo shot-stopper has been attracting the wrong sort of headlines throughout his career. At Aston Villa he was fined £1000, very harshly in my opinion, for making a joke Hitler salute at Spurs fans in 1996. Then Villa manager John Gregory frequently clashed with Bosnich and once threw the goalkeeper off the team bus because he considered him to be unfit.

In September 1998, a national tabloid published video stills showing Dwight Yorke and Bosnich in a sex romp with two unnamed women and another man. But whereas Yorke was celebrated as the ‘king of pornography’ by United fans, Bosnich was just seen as a fat gimp.

Despite his off-field antics Bosnich was still regarded as one of the world’s best goalkeepers when he signed for Manchester United in 1999. However, he fell out of favour with Alex Ferguson after being arrested for allegedly assaulting a photographer outside a strip club on the night before his second wedding.

‘Perhaps I didn’t exactly make the best start to life at United on the eve of my wedding’, said Bosnich with astonishing understatement. Ferguson, who was said to be unhappy with the Australian’s laziness and expanding waistline, consigned Bosnich to the reserves and eventually signed Fabien Barthez as his first-choice keeper.

In January 2001, Bosnich was released from his contract at United and joined Chelsea on a free transfer. ‘In 10 years’ time I want to walk around these parts and have people look at me the same way they look at Peter Bonetti and Peter Osgood’, he declared. Sadly, after only eight first-team appearances in 30 months at Stamford Bridge, Bosnich is more likely to be seen as an overpaid flop, more Winston Bogarde than Peter Osgood.

It was recently reported that Bosnich, who can’t even get a game for Chelsea reserves these days, has actually moved up five places in Britain’s rich list. He is said to be trousering a staggering £40,000 a week for doing precisely nada, apart from sticking rolled-up £20 notes up his nose, that is…allegedly.

If Bosnich is found guilty of drug use the pious press pack will be baying for his blood. His football career could well be finished.

But is it right to crucify a footballer simply for taking recreational drugs? Of course football clubs are perfectly entitled to discipline players whose performances are adversely affected by drugs. But it does not necessarily follow that recreational drugs diminish a player’s performance. Despite his penchant for the old nose candy, Diego Maradona was the best footballer of his generation. If Maradona was capable of performing magic on the pitch does it really matter what he stuck up his nose?

Eric Cantona generally spouted a load of pseudo-intellectual gobbledy-gook, but he got it absolutely right when asked in an interview about Maradona’s cocaine habit. ‘I prefer someone who uses cocaine on a Wednesday and plays at the weekend’, said Cantona. ‘They play to win. They play well to help their team to win so they can be proud of it.’

The problem with Mark Bosnich is that he doesn’t play at all, so it’s difficult to mount a similar defence for him. Bosnich appears to have decided that the only course of action left open to him is the therapeutic road to redemption pioneered by Paul Merson and Tony Adams. His management company revealed that the player is now receiving treatment in a ‘medical facility’ for ‘severe clinical depression’.

You can guess what will happen next. Bosnich will learn to talk in psychobabble; fess up on TV to Martin Bashir; break down in tears on Kilroy; give talks to schoolchildren about the miserable existence of millionaire coke-fiends; and set up a charity to support recovering addicts.

Who knows? If he reinvents himself as a professional therapy-case, Bosnich might well be able to rebuild his career at a less-glamorous club where there is no expectation of success. Somewhere like Brighton, for instance.

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