Why Romanian's age ensured rough justice prevailed

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The Independent Football

Adrian Mutu's drug-taking has been dealt with more severely than countless previous drug-using footballers for two reasons: his club's lack of interest in helping him, and his age.

Chelsea helped to ensure that Mutu was caught, charged and put under the spotlight. The club finally admitted yesterday that it asked the testers in to catch him. This was rare, perhaps unique, behaviour for a club. None other has been known to "shop" a player, although Chelsea did do the same to Mark Bosnich.

Mutu's name was then leaked to a Sunday paper by persons unknown, stripping him of the anonymity normally afforded to those who fail drugs tests. The publicity surrounding Mutu's case automatically - and unfairly - increased the pressure on the Football Association to deal harshly with him.

Chelsea's sacking of Mutu yesterday, justified as an act of "social responsibility", was the kind of socially responsible act that only the ultra-rich can afford. Roman Abramovich wanted Mutu out - that is self-evident - and can shrug off losing £15.8m.

Mutu's age has counted against him because, at 25, he cannot claim youthful indiscretion. Younger footballing drug-takers have traditionally been treated sympathetically after a first offence, both by their clubs and by the FA. And the Professional Footballers' Association has always been on hand to book a bed in a Priory clinic or equivalent, regardless of age.

Chesterfield's Shane Nicholson, sacked by West Brom for drugs offences in 1998, aged 27, is quite open in crediting the PFA with helping save his life and career following addiction and alcoholism. His is a success story of the rehab route.

According to one source, "a lot" of positive tests over the years "have been young players. And in whose interests is it to end a career before it's begun?"

The implication is that failed tests, when involving youngsters, have led to counselling or rehabilitation, but not bans. Even some of the recent positive tests - which are in the public domain via UK Sport's reports - have not led to bans. Three players tested positive for marijuana last season and escaped bans. An unrepentant cocaine user escaped with a six-month ban, despite failing to undertake rehabilitation. It is understood the reason was his age.

Mutu unquestionably offended. But he could argue that his treatment, relatively speaking, has been offensive.