Final Fling: Does Fiorentina's Adrian Mutu Deserve His Last Shot at Redemption?
To err is human, to forgive divine. But even the good Lord must be running out of patience with Adrian Mutu. Sunday night in Sicily will surely be the beginning of the Fiorentina striker's final chance at salvaging his sporting reputation.
For anyone who has missed the story so far, it bears repeating. After capturing the eye with Dynamo Bucharest and being snapped up by Inter Milan, the Romanian established his Serie A reputation with moves to Verona and Parma. His time in Emilia Romagna under Cesare Prandelli caught the eye of the English Premier League. It was there that it all went wrong.
A move to big spending Chelsea in 2003 was followed a year later by a drug test finding him positive for cocaine. A ban ensued and his employers then decided to pursue him for compensation. A lengthy legal battle eventually resulted in the Blues being awarded £14 million in damages this summer. Mutu had not been quiet in the meantime.
He moved for a short spell at Juventus before rejoining Prandelli at Fiorentina where he started to rebuild his career. Goals in Serie A and the Champions League started to mark him out as one of the most influential players in the division. His work as an assist-man was second to none.
Everything looked to be back on track until January this year and another drug test. It flagged up the presence of sibutramine - a dieting drug on the list of banned substances. He was thrown out of football once more and, just to kick him when he was down, confirmation arrived of the payment he owed Chelsea.
Little wonder, perhaps, that Fiorentina looked to move him in the summer. Equally unsurprising was the fact that few people seemed keen to hire him. However, he made all the right noises about getting his head down and concentrating on being ready to play once his ban was lifted on 29 October. Maybe he had learned his lesson after all.
That possibility came crashing down just days before he was due to be cleared to play again. He was embroiled in a restaurant fracas which resulted in a waiter getting a broken nose. Once again, Mutu was forced to put his penitent's cap on and seek the forgiveness of his colleagues. They could have been forgiven for finding such requests a little tiresome by now.
And yet Fiorentina can ill afford to do without his services. He seems certain to feature at some point during their Sunday night game away to Catania. If he returns to be anything like the player he once was he will be a valuable addition to the Viola cause.
Question marks must remain about how focused he can possibly be on his football. The financial cloud is still hanging over him and he has now twice been banned over drug usage. Even a man in possession of the most sublime inner calm would probably be in a bit of turmoil.
Does he even deserve to get this third chance in the game? Plenty of people wanted to see him given a career-ending ban after his last offence. They argued it would send out a message to players who infringed the rules of sport that such breaches might be tolerated once but they would not be acceptable on a second occasion.
However, the nature of the offence meant it was not dealt with so sternly and Mutu will be free to return to Serie A action this weekend. If you can look beyond his off the field problems, it is definitely a boost to Fiorentina and possibly even the whole league in general. He is a class performer and his club, and the wider division, needs all of those it can get.
This has to be his last chance to clean up his tarnished image around the world. For many football followers that reputation may already be damaged beyond repair. Nothing he can say or do will change their minds.
The more pragmatic may be willing to reserve judgment. At 31 he may have three or four more years to try to turn the tide and leave the game with a more positive image of his playing days. If he could take Fiorentina back to the top end of the table and return them to the Champions League it might give this turbulent tale a happy ending. Or will the self-destruct button prove just too tempting once again?
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