"Adrian Mutu is a spoilt child who was lucky enough to be blessed with huge talent, but who hasn't been able to make the most of it," says Florin Tudose. When talking about the Pitesti native, the Romanian psychologist certainly does not mince his words.
In Mutu's defence, it is only fair to point out that his career took off at dizzying speed - somewhat similar to those he reputedly reached around the streets of Bucharest before having his driving licence suspended.
Brought through the ranks at local club Arges Pitesti, Mutu made his first-team debut at the age of 18 in the 1996/97 season, and merely two years later he was packing his bags for prestigious outfit Dinamo Bucharest. There, he managed to register 18 goals in as many games in his second term and played a major role in Dinamo's conquest of the league and cup double, this despite the distraction of signing for Inter Milan before the campaign had reached its climax.
As if his trajectory up until that point had not been steep enough, things were about to move even quicker for the technically-gifted youngster with the ferocious shot.
Just nine minutes into his Inter spell, Mutu announced his arrival by finding the back of the net, yet he soon fell victim to Serie A limitations on the number of non-EU players each club could employ. As a result, he joined Verona, where his hopes of gaining more playing time proved well-founded. Despite Mutu's contribution of 12 goals, Verona were relegated into Serie B in his second season at the club.
A tactical rethink
Picked up by Parma a day before the transfer window slammed shut in 2002, Mutu was about to begin a partnership that would prove crucial for the future development of his career. Coach Cesare Prandelli experimented with placing his new acquisition on the left side of the attack, and it proved a successful switch for a player who had started off as a left-back before becoming an attacking midfielder.
In his new role, Mutu hit 21 goals in 24 outings, including 17 in Serie A, and even earned himself the captain's armband for the following season. Before he could slip it on, though, he was on his way to join the all-star cast at Chelsea in a 23-million-euro deal, citing "an offer I couldn't refuse".
Once in England, the Romanian international turned heads with a spectacular goal amid a promising start, yet his form slipped as the season unfolded and relations soured with then manager Claudio Ranieri.
Worse was to come in September 2004, when he tested positive for cocaine use. The Blues terminated his employment on 29 October and he was handed a seven-month ban, during which time he worked hard to stay fit, awaiting an eventual comeback in Italy with Juventus. Used as a left-sided midfielder by Fabio Capello, Mutu's honest endeavours were nonetheless undone when the club became entangled in the 'Moggiopoli' scandal, which led to them having their title removed and being sent down to Serie B.
It was a major blow but Mutu refused to let his head drop and was soon sold to Fiorentina, where he was reunited with Cesare Prandelli. Given a starting berth alongside Luca Toni in attack, he flourished again with a tally of 16 goals in 33 games in his first season; enough to earn him the title of Best Foreign Player. Since Toni's departure, he has become the undisputed leader of the Florence outfit's frontline and is now partnered by a certain Christian Vieri.
'I've found serenity'
"After a difficult period in my life as a man and in my sporting career, I've found serenity in Florence," he says. "There's no question of me leaving. I intend to respect the decision I took during a tough moment in my life. I want to win with Prandelli and my team-mates. There are certain people who can't be bought... I'm one of those people."
Mutu gave an expert demonstration of his newfound composure during the 2-1 victory over Torino on Sunday. After winning a penalty he usually would have converted himself, the 29-year-old handed the ball to Vieri for the veteran to notch his 200th Serie A strike. He then earned a second spot-kick after the restart, and this time Vieri returned the favour, allowing his younger colleague to move on to 12 goals this term.
Happy with the flow of life in Florence, Mutu is now dreaming of representing his side in the UEFA Champions League next season. The Viola currently lie fourth in the standings but whatever happens, their reborn forward ought to appear on the European stage this summer. With UEFA EURO 2008 looming ever closer, Mutu will be hungry to add to his impressive record of 27 goals in 58 appearances for Romania.