On the face of it, Adrian Mutu looks at peace with himself. There’s a hint of irritation when you raise the question of his controversial past, but he knows it will “follow him wherever he goes.”
His has been a career that has witnessed several dramatic twists. But even by his unpredictable standards, Mutu would not have expected his quest to return to the Romanian national side to begin thousands of miles away in India, with a fledgling club – FC Pune City – and in an upstart Indian Super League.
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At the twilight of his career, that’s the challenge the former Chelsea striker has posed himself. The signing of ageing, yesteryear superstars in the ISL has been met with scepticism from many who argue they don’t bring much to the table. At 36, Mutu is among the oldest players in the second edition of the ISL; his prime well past him. But the Romanian insists that his desire to return to his national team for Euro 2016 means he is sure to give it all in the next three months.
“This is one of the biggest challenges of my career,” Mutu tells Sport360. “By no means will it be easy. I have been training hard, been communicating with the club constantly to understand their philosophy and requirements and I am committed to give everything I have.”
Romania, who are second in Group F of the Euro qualifiers, are on the cusp of reaching France 2016. Their strikers’ cupboard, however, is largely bare. Centre-forward Claudiu Keseru, who plays for Ludgorets, is 28 but has only played five internationals (though he has scored four goals). Ciprian Marica, has been left out by Romania’s coach Anghel Iordanescu after making just two substitute appearances in the past seven months. And since suffering a serious knee injury at the end of 2013-14 season, Marica has made just four starts.
It’s a scenario that gives Mutu hope of a return, and also the chance to become his country’s highest goal-scorer. With 35, he is currently level with the legendary Gheorghe Hagi.
“I recently had a talk with the national team coach and he has told me that if I continue playing football even after ISL, then he will consider me for the European Championship next year,” he explains. “It’s a huge motivation for me to keep going and I am taking it very seriously.”
Mutu was supposed to be in India last year but could not make it after he was denied a visa. According to a report in Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport, officials in the Indian embassy in Bucharest said that the star was intoxicated to a level that it was plainly obvious for workers to see when he arrived for the visa interview. The player and club officials rubbished the reports. Nevertheless, Mutu is grateful to the club for persevering to bring him back.
“I had a couple of offers from European clubs,” says Mutu.
“But one of the reasons I chose to come to India is that the club has been very nice to me despite the fact that I couldn’t come last year because of a bureaucratic problem.
“They behaved well with me and I appreciate that.”
Mutu, of course, isn’t new to controversy. Twice he has been suspended for failed drug tests, first during his time with Chelsea and then in Italy with Fiorentina (who are also the co-owners of Pune City). Unsurprisingly, he does not want to talk about his past, insisting “those days are all behind me”.
He adds: “All this is something of the past but I know it’s going to follow me wherever I go for the rest of my life. There is no denying I made mistakes. But everyone makes mistakes, don’t they?”
Mutu is hoping his footballing reputation will precede him. There is little doubt about his pedigree as a goal-scorer. In 421 appearances, the Romanian has scored 154 goals and created another 48. But he hasn’t played competitive football for a year. The striker last turned out for Romanian first division club Petrolul, where he made 14 appearances before being released last September.
Mutu says pre-season training with Pune City in Turkey has helped a great deal in returning him to good shape. But his role at Pune will stretch far-beyond mere goal-scoring duties. Mutu will have to act as a role-model off the field as well as acting a mentor to a young side comprising inexperienced Indian players.
He laughs at the mention of the word ‘mentor’, saying: “I don’t know if I can call myself a mentor. But what I can assure you is that I would share with them my experience… whatever I can teach. They (Indian players) are very nice, open people and are hungry to learn.
“They keep on asking me various things. They are all good athletes and footballers but what they don’t have is experience. I think it’s normal because here in India football wasn’t so popular till a few years ago.”
— FC Pune City (@FCPuneCity) September 24, 2015
Mutu will find support in seasoned players such as former Ivory Coast international Didier Zokora, Turkey’s Tuncay Sanli and ex-Reading and Aston Villa defender Nicky Shorey. The team will also be managed by David Platt, who said he is “excited” to work with a player of Mutu’s calibre.
“David is a vastly experienced manager and the international players on my team are really good as well. We have a really strong team, good enough to win us the title if we remain consistent,” Mutu says.
“Another good thing about a tournament like ISL is I’ll get to meet my friends John-Arne Riise, Nicolas Anelka and hopefully even Roberto Carlos when our teams play each other.
“I think all these players will help the league in a big way, mainly because of their vast experience.”
Personally, though, his focus is on scoring goals and forcing the Romania boss to look his way.
“I never expected that my campaign to return to the national team would begin in India. After ISL, I don’t know where I’ll play,” he says. “But I am thinking closer to the future. I hope to stay fit, score some goals and help my team win the title.”
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