Mutu counting on precedents to save tarnished career

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Chelsea's Adrian Mutu may escape a ban for his positive drugs test due partly to the recent precedent of an unrepentant drug-using footballer who received only a six-month suspension after failing a test due to cocaine.

Chelsea's Adrian Mutu may escape a ban for his positive drugs test due partly to the recent precedent of an unrepentant drug-using footballer who received only a six-month suspension after failing a test due to cocaine.

The unnamed footballer, at a club in England, tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a diagnostic metabolite of cocaine, between July and September last year. He was charged by the Football Association for a violation of the FA's anti-doping regulations and faced a disciplinary commission where it is understood that he refused to admit any guilt.

It is believed that the player failed to undergo counselling or enrol in a rehabilitation programme, as would normally be advised by the FA after a positive test. The commission banned him for six months in December last year. He was free to resume playing on 17 May.

Mutu, who tested positive for cocaine on 1 October and has already admitted his guilt, is being supported by the Professional Footballers' Association as he tries to salvage his career. It is understood that the 25-year-old Romanian has also hired the services of a London-based QC with specialist knowledge of doping issues.

Mutu's argument against a ban will be simple. Firstly, that unlike the "cocaine-positive" player last year, he has come clean and agreed to undergo counselling, rehab and whatever other treatments are deemed necessary. Indeed, he is due to begin a series of daily, one-hour, psychological counselling sessions today.

Secondly, his lawyers are likely to argue that in other recent cases of positive drugs tests, players have escaped without bans precisely because they undertook the kind of measures Mutu has agreed to try. An unnamed player who tested positive between January and March this year for marijuana - which is deemed by the FA to be in the same "social" class of drugs as cocaine - escaped a ban. Instead, he was ordered to attend counselling and "drug/ alcohol education" classes. That player was also subjected to target testing, with his case due to be reviewed this month.

The handling of Mutu's case has undoubtedly been muddied by his name being made public. His lawyers are likely to argue that it would be wrong for the FA to use the high-profile nature of the case to make an example of him. (The FA was accused of this in the Rio Ferdinand "missed test" case, although a key difference was Ferdinand's failure to recognise explicitly that he had done anything wrong).

Countless other sportsmen, including the two drug-using footballers cited above, have had their confidentiality respected after failing tests. The leaking of Mutu's name to a Sunday newspaper, by persons unknown, has denied him the same privacy.

Whether any of these arguments sway the FA remains to be seen. A charge will be almost certainly be made within days against Mutu, who will then attend a personal hearing in front of the disciplinary commission. The commission will first decide whether the charge is proven - a certain "yes" - and then what to do next.

There is nothing to compel the FA, under its own rules, to ban Mutu. As clause 14 of the FA's Doping Control Programme Regulations states: "If the FA decides upon this course [assessment, counselling and the like] the disciplinary commission shall not be obliged to impose the penalties [i.e.: the bans] set out."

The FA and Chelsea have both declined to make any comment on Mutu's case. If Mutu's penitence and his lawyer's arguments are a success, he could find himself on his way to Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk as soon as the January transfer window opens. With the relationship between Mutu and the Chelsea manager, Jose Mourinho, at the point of terminal breakdown, it is clear that the club do not want to keep Mutu. His compatriot, Mircea Lucescu, Shakhtar's manager, is interested in buying, however.

"We definitely want to sign him," said Lucescu, who has a track record for salvaging troubled players' careers. "We must first wait until his situation becomes clear. In December we will open the talks."

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