Goal.com Worldview: Adrian Mutu’s €17m Chelsea Fine Is Indefensible

The Fiorentina forward is set to be bankrupted following Friday’s decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Carlo Garganese expresses his shock and anger, along with other Goal.com editors...
History has taught us that just because a person is found guilty by a court of law, this does not necessarily mean that he or she is actually guilty. Indeed, often it is politics and economics that decide the outcome of a legal case. There have been numerous examples over the years – the latest last Friday when Fiorentina forward Adrian Mutu was ordered to pay compensation of £14.6 million (€17m) to former club Chelsea.

For those of you unfamiliar with this case, here is a brief recap. In August 2003, Roman Abramovich’s nouveau-riche Chelsea signed Mutu from Parma for £15.8m (€18.6m by today’s conversion). After an explosive start the Romanian lost his way in the second half of the season, and by the onset of the 2004-05 campaign began to encounter a few problems with new Blues manager Jose Mourinho. In September 2004, Mutu failed a drugs test for cocaine for which he would receive a £20,000 fine from the Football Association (FA) together with a seven-month ban. Chelsea also took the additional step of sacking Mutu, leaving him as a free agent.

Despite still having a further five months of his suspension to run, Mutu then joined Juventus on a free transfer in January 2005 (he would then move on again to Fiorentina in the summer of 2006), with the Bianconeri fighting off all attempts by Chelsea to gain compensation.

What would follow is years of legal wrangling between Chelsea and Mutu, culminating with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling that the striker had committed a breach of contract by taking cocaine, and that under FIFA’s laws for compensation he was liable for the transfer fee Chelsea wrote off their accounts when they sacked him. The final damages, following an unsuccessful appeal, were set at £14.6m (€17m).

Is this justice? It was Chelsea who took the decision to sack Mutu, and it was their idiocy to release him on a free transfer rather than sell him on and limit their damages. Had they done the latter, it could theoretically be argued that Mutu should morally have paid the difference. So if Mutu then signed for Manchester United for £12.8m, the player would need to pay Chelsea £3m.

Yet even this would have been highly contentious and ground-breaking, for when the Romanian joined Chelsea, he had no say in fixing the transfer fee. Indeed many would argue that The Blues paid over the odds for him, just as they did with a whole host of players who arrived during Roman Abramovich’s first summer in English football. (Compare the situation then to Manchester City now) How can Mutu be responsible for a transfer fee that was agreed between Parma and Chelsea? If Abramovich had been feeling extra generous the day he sent over a cheque to Emilia-Romagna, and decided to splash out a Cristiano Ronaldo type fee of £80m, would Mutu now be expected to pay all that back? The premise is so ridiculous that the late great advocate George Carman must be considering a comeback - but the CAS regards it as valid!

The local media in Britain has been largely acquiescent over the incident, with anti-drug piety colouring the coverage. As for Chelsea, they have yet to comment. Why would they? Even though they may have to wait some time before receiving some or all of the Mutu cash, they can rest assured that their interests are consonant with those of the other big clubs that are favoured by judgements like these. The governing bodies in football - including the CAS, which is now largely football focused - are desperate to protect these superpowers because without them they cannot exist. Thus, they have little choice but to team with the likes of Chelsea during these disputes. And for some in the media, dissenting from the large clubs can mean losing vital coverage opportunities - not to mention the gasps that are elicited by any mention of a drug-related offence, no matter how underwhelming or how much the player has righted wrongs since then.

No doubt FIFA and CAS, having seen clubs lose a vast amount of control since the Bosman Ruling, have not squandered an opportunity to claw back some ‘player power’. Mutu has been made an example of in the battle against drugs in football, only that in this case it is an example of how there is no point reforming yourself because you will still be persecuted afterwards.

Following his well-documented personal problems circa 2004, Mutu has completely turned around his life. As recently as 2007, the Guardian newspaper praised Mutu fulsomely for his newfound maturity. Indeed, it is no exaggeration whatsoever to call the Romanian a completely changed man. Perhaps, then, the sacking from Chelsea was a wake-up call that he needed. But it did not stop there, and the millstone around his neck won't go away. The message this sends out to all those who are struggling with drink, drugs, gambling and other difficulties is to continue drinking, continue taking drugs and continue gambling because the 'football community' will never forgive and certainly never forget.

Or perhaps help and acceptance is only offered when there are special interests to consider. If a player more friendly with Mourinho had tested positive for the devil’s dandruff, would Chelsea have taken the same decision in sacking them? What about Rio Ferdinand in 2003 when he failed/refused to take a drugs test, and was subsequently banned for eight months and fined £50,000? Ferdinand had signed for The Red Devils from Leeds only a year earlier for £29.1m, but did Man Utd ditch him before then attempting to sue him? Certainly not - they stood by their man, and both the club and Rio have reaped the rewards.

This has all been a PR disaster for Chelsea and FIFA, while the authority and status of CAS could be almost irreversibly broken if, as expected, Mutu takes the next legal step and drags his ex-employers into the European Court of Human Rights - a body that, despite its clear flaws, is not in thrall to the mega-clubs and has in the past showed willingness to consider the rights of players as workers, rather than rows on a balance sheet.

As it stands, Mutu is a broken man. At the age of nearly 31 he has very little earning potential left, meaning that he will retire with nothing to show financially for his efforts.

Assuming this verdict is actually enforced, of course. In a bittersweet coda, it's thought deeply unlikely that Chelsea will get the money anytime soon. Just as over Gibraltar's membership of UEFA, the CAS is a paper tiger - and one that would perhaps be best placed in the wastebasket.

Carlo Garganese, Goal.com


Juan Lirman & Ivar Matusevich (Goal.com Spain): Is this justice or fascism? Mutu has already paid his penalty, and not just in sporting terms. It is scandalous. And the big problem is the precedent this sets.

Meanwhile Chelsea illustrated their class to the world by treating him like a delinquent, and they gain a reward. It is an awful message by Chelsea and FIFA with regards to the international rights of players.

Michael Paterakis (Goal.com Greece): When I first learned about the initial decision by FIFA I was shocked. However, I now see that their decision is pretty much what anyone should expect from the governing bodies of football, who are desperately trying to protect in any way their ‘clients’ - the big European clubs.

This is all ridiculous. How many players abuse alcohol and drugs? How many teams are trying to boost their players’ performances with drugs (which still remains a common secret)? Why should the witch-hunt start with Mutu? And would Chelsea be equally sensitive if one of their more popular players was caught sniffing?

Chelsea's people act according to the club's best interest. They calculated that they probably would never receive £17m from his transfer and thought it was best was to force Mutu to pay the loss himself. The worst part, though, is how this is accepted and supported by FIFA and CAS.

However, I'm not so sure that if Mutu goes to the European Court of Human Rights that this decision will be upheld. There are very serious industrial laws in the EU, and they most definitely won't support exhaustive rulings like this specific one.

Sergio Stanco (Goal.com Italy): I think that the sentence is trying to act as a deterrent, telling players that they may be young and rich, but they are also responsible for the way they behave. They have rights but they also have to respect the club who pay them and who invested in them. From this point of view, what has happened is not so strange.

All workers are responsible for what they do and for the image of the company they represent. If they cause damage, they should pay for it.
Having said all this, when a system needs to issue a sentence in order to make an example, it means that it can’t govern in another way. Asking Mutu to pay €17m means to destroy him. The penalty has to be relative and in this case it is not.

Chelsea could have asked Mutu to pay for the damage to their image,
perhaps with an anti-drugs campaign and so on, waited until the end of the ban and then the story would be over. But to fire him and then demand €17m really is too much.

Andrea Canales (Goal.com USA): 
I'm not sure of all the details of Mutu's contract, but if he, for example, was driving under the influence of drugs and crashed into Chelsea's headquarters at Stamford Bridge, and set off an explosion that led to a fire and a section of the stadium burned down, wouldn't people expect him to pay for it because he had been irresponsible in taking the drugs that led to the accident?

Granted, Chelsea sacked him, but at that point, they were already out on the transfer fee - were they supposed to keep him on full salary as well, just hoping he'd be good about rehab when he hadn't been before? Players expect clubs to be held to their contracts, say, x amount extra if a player scores x goals - and many are not shy about threatening to sue if a club tries to avoid payment.

Why should that expectation (if it was expressly promised that Mutu wouldn't do drugs in his contract) not go the other direction? Mutu may also not have to pay out of pocket the full amount - if there is some sort of insurance rider involved in the situation, as there often is in these type of cases in the U.S, that could be Chelsea's way of trying to get some compensation. Companies sue each other all the time to collect from insurance. I just don't think it's as simple as poor player, bad club.

Ewan Macdonald (Goal.com International):
If we look back to the biggest ruling in favour of players of the last 20 years - the Bosman Ruling - that was via the European Court of Justice, the CAS being completely silent on the matter. Similarly the so-called 'Webster ruling' (not really a ruling at all but rather the application of an existing rule) has been carried out with EU approval - the CAS only followed in after the fact (and although they did largely rule in favour of Webster in this instance it was a token gesture.)

Above all, the CAS is a child of the International Olympic Committee. Why one would look to such a body for ethical rulings in the first place is a mystery.

Graham Lister (Goal.com International): The punishment is totally disproportionate to the crime - especially considering that Mutu served a lengthy suspension in the first place. The question of financial compensation for the club should not really come into it, the player having been fined at the time and banned by the FA; that should have been enough. But Chelsea seem to have decided to go for the jugular, no doubt prompted by the fact that Mutu had already fallen out with Mourinho at the time over a disagreement about the player's fitness after an injury, and the authorities seem eager to back the club in the interests of making an example of Mutu, all dressed up in the self-righteous and nauseating piety of taking a stand against drugs.

Chelsea's eagerness to occupy the moral high ground whenever they can is no more than a cynical attempt to redress the ethical balance in the wake of their own several dubious practices in the Abramovich era. But far from being a moral crusade against drugs, I find this persecution of Mutu to be little more than vindictive spite. And on the broader issue of breach of contract, clubs are happy to do this routinely when it comes, for example, to sacking managers, back-room staff, etc. Many clubs are often slow/reluctant to compensate the people dismissed. So again, I feel Chelsea's position, and the complicity of CAS, to reek of double standards.

What are your views on this topic? Do you agree that Adrian Mutu’s €17m fine is obscene? Or do you feel otherwise? Goal.com wants to know what YOU think…

Carlo Garganese, Goal.com