Offside, 5 November

Adrian Mutu might have saved his skin if he'd joined Coke Snorters Anonymous.

Duleep Allirajah

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Topics Politics

Were Chelsea right to sack Adrian Mutu for taking cocaine?

To be honest, I’m ambivalent. There’s a part of me – my inner Hunter S Thompson – that sympathises with Mutu. Why should footballers be automatically sacked or banned for taking recreational drugs? However, there’s another part of me – my inner Boris Johnson – that recoils at the thought of defending Adrian Mutu’s right to shovel Colombian candy up his nostrils.

There are good arguments against prohibition of recreational drugs in sport. For a start, cocaine is not exactly performance enhancing, is it? I’ve checked the Carling Opta Index, and talking incessant gibberish, a classic symptom of cocaine use, isn’t a key performance indicator. Players register Opta points for dribbling, but not the sort of nose dribbling that cokeheads specialise in. The biggest problem with coked-up footballers is keeping them on the pitch for the full 90 minutes. They’d be forever looking for an excuse to nip back to the dressing room for another little toot – one minute feigning injury, the next changing their boots, or asking to be substituted, or even getting themselves sent off.

I can’t see the problem with a bit of recreational drug use so long as players can still do the business on the pitch. Diego Maradona, the greatest footballer of his generation, managed to strike a reasonable work/drug balance throughout his career. ‘I prefer someone who uses cocaine on a Wednesday and plays at the weekend’, Eric Cantona famously said of Maradona. And no, I don’t buy the argument that footballers should behave like saints because they are role models to our children. While their job is to kick a ball into an onion bag, it’s our job as parents to bring up our children.

But what happens when drug use adversely affects performance? A football club has every right to discipline a player who fails to show up for training or doesn’t perform on match days because he has over-indulged. It’s not a question of morality but of discipline. The higher levels of fitness in the modern game mean that footballers must be extremely self-disciplined about what they ingest. It’s not quite a monkish existence – roasting, bling-bling, mock Tudor mansions and Porsches are not, as far as I know, features of monastic life – but being a professional footballer does require a degree of abstinence and dedication that is not expected of most employees.

Chelsea’s zero-tolerance policy towards drugs might be a tad draconian, but it does at least have the merit of treating its players as responsible adults. I have little time for the argument advanced by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) that Chelsea have failed in their duty of care towards the player. ‘The attitude maybe zero tolerance but you would expect any employer to be interested in the moral and social welfare of its employees’, said PFA chief Gordon Taylor. ‘We consider they have a duty of care. I find it astonishing in this day and age there are valuable players – and they have spent millions on Adrian Mutu – and they are not prepared to discuss the situation with him and look to set an example and encourage rehabilitation.’

Mutu’s apologists want to absolve him of blame by suggesting that he must be sick, addicted or in need of help. A statement issued by his lawyer claimed that Mutu ‘had been suffering severe personal difficulties at the time’. I have no idea what was going on in Adrian Mutu’s private life. Perhaps his marriage was in trouble, or he was unsettled in London, or he was frustrated at his lack of first-team action. But none of these problems could possibly have deprived him of his mental capacity. Mutu is a grown man who was fully responsible for his own actions. If he did too much coke then he alone must shoulder the blame.

Perversely, the Football Association’s disciplinary system actively encourages footballers who fail dope tests to abdicate responsibility and pass themselves off as therapy cases. Players who are caught taking social drugs are handed shorter bans if they agree to undergo counselling and rehabilitation.

Unsurprisingly, Mutu has now sought help from the Sporting Chance clinic founded by Tony Adams. The statement issued by Mutu’s lawyer says that ‘He greatly regrets not seeking professional help earlier’. Mutu was clearly not well versed in our new therapeutic customs and consequently failed to realise, until it was too late, that a theatrically tearful press conference or confessional interview with Martin Bashir might just have spared him the sack. Foreign players have much to learn about the English game. They might be adept at feigning injury but they are mere novices when it comes to feigning addiction.

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