Chelsea sacked Adrian Mutu yesterday, citing gross misconduct as the reason and claiming it was the club's "social responsibility" to dismiss him following a positive drugs test.
The club received support for its decision from sources as diverse as rival clubs' managers to Michelle Verroken, the former head of UK Sport's anti-doping unit.
Yet condemnation of the sacking was swift. Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, accused Chelsea of a dereliction of their "duty of care" to their player. Taylor also claimed that Chelsea had deliberately ensured that their players missed out on drugs-awareness briefings provided routinely to many clubs.
Mutu, whose career will remain in the balance until the Football Association decides what ban, if any, to hand out, maintained his silence. However, the Romanian striker's agent criticised Chelsea, saying they were the only party among football's family who refused to help him.
"The English FA backed him. Gordon Taylor backed him. We also helped him. Everybody helped him except for his club," Gheorghe Popescu said.
"A two-year suspension will be fatal for Mutu," he added. "Mutu told me playing football is his life, nothing else. His morale is rock-bottom low. A six-month ban is the only way for him to have a second chance."
"Chelsea's attitude was not one of fair play," said Popescu, who stated the club had agreed not to make any public announcements without both parties agreeing to them beforehand.
Chelsea's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, defended the club's decision to target Mutu for testing and then sack him for failing a test on 1 October. He said there was "no room" in football for drug-taking and added that Chelsea were simply enforcing their "zero tolerance" policy.
"We've reached a difficult decision but one we firmly believe is right," he said. "You look to players to be role models and he was clearly in breach of contract. The contract is very specific and players who take enhancing or social drugs... there is just no room for it.
"The FA rules are quite clear and all our players are aware of them.
"After a clinical assessment we thought it necessary to target test the player and the test proved positive.
"We are within our rights to target test, within the FA doping controls, and, having tested positive we dismissed him."
Chelsea bought Mutu from Parma last year for £15.8m, money that has now effectively been written off. Kenyon explained this waste of cash from the moral high ground.
"There is a significant financial aspect to it and it has been against the best interests of Chelsea that this decision has been taken," he said. "But overridingly there is a social responsibility, and one that clearly sends a message of Chelsea's position on this."
Taylor countered that Chelsea had picked on Mutu "with a view to getting rid of him as opposed to undertaking a process of rehabilitation, which is possible".
He added: "The attitude may be zero tolerance but you would expect any employer to be interested in the moral and social welfare of its employees. It is not a policy we would approve of but it is one we have no surprise at.
"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 and getting him back on track.
"Quite a number of other clubs have been prepared to engage in rehabilitation."
Chelsea's manager, Jose Mourinho, begged to differ, saying that sacking Mutu had been the right thing to do. "I agree with it," he said. "The club bought him to be ready to play football and at this moment he will be out of competition for a long period.
"So the first one to break the relationship was the player, so you cannot complain and the club cannot be pointed as the guilty party in the situation.
"You give a player everything he needs to have a good professional life and good behaviour. He has been saying this was a personal problem he had been having for a long period. It is his fault.
"Of course, he is a human being, a young man. His life did not go in the right direction. He has around him people who love him and have a very good relationship with him. He has time to go in the right direction."
The club's statement confirming the sacking said: "Chelsea has terminated the contract of Adrian Mutu for gross misconduct. The decision comes after the player's positive drugs test for cocaine and his admission that he took the drug."
Although Mutu first admitted cocaine was the substance, he has since denied this, saying he took something to enhance his sexual performance. Chelsea's statement that cocaine was involved - undisputed yesterday - suggests Mutu, though undergoing counselling, remains in denial of aspects of his behaviour.
Chelsea released a statement last night claiming some of Taylor's comments were "based on inaccuracies", but made no denial of Taylor's claim about the club preventing access to drugs-awareness briefings in the past. Taylor said Chelsea had gone out of their way to prevent the majority of their squad receiving advice from the former Arsenal captain and alcoholic, Tony Adams, and his Sporting Chance clinic, which caters for sports people with drug, alcohol and gambling addictions.
"When we have had Sporting Chance personnel go to the club in order to talk and inform the players they [Chelsea] have chosen to give the first-team players and the second-team players the day off," Taylor said.
Verokken sided with Chelsea. "It [the sacking] is a very clear stance by Chelsea and it has given a strong boost to the reputation of the club," she said.
Charlton's Alan Curbishley was among managers who supported Chelsea's right to sack Mutu, who is likely to be banned for six months by the FA. The ban, enforced by Fifa, would be effective world-wide.
What they said...
I am not hooked on drugs. I categorically deny this. The only reason I took what I took was because I wanted to improve my sexual performance. It may be funny but it is true. I did not take cocaine. I took something to make me feel good.
A clinical assessment over time led us to believe that his behaviour could be associated with drugs.
Peter Kenyon, Chelsea's chief executive.
They have target-tested the player with a view to getting rid of him as opposed to undertaking a process of rehabilitation. The attitude may be zero tolerance but you would expect any employer to be interested in the moral and social welfare of its employees. It is not a policy we would approve of... We consider they have a duty of care.
Gordon Taylor, PFA chief executive.
Chelsea are saying quite clearly to the rest of their players and their fans that this is a situation they are not prepared to tolerate... It was the only decision they could make.
Michele Verroken, the former drug-testing director of UK Sport.Reuse content