Adrian Mutu has had short spells coaching Romanian top-flight side Voluntari and in Abu Dhabi before taking on his current role
Leicester’s Ian Walker never stood a chance. The shot, all bludgeoned power and fizzing swerve, streaked past his stretching fingers and into the bottom corner.
Blackburn’s Brad Friedel was the next victim, left floundering as the ball was ushered around him and rolled into the empty net.
By the time Adrian Mutu scored twice in a September 2003 win over Tottenham, making it four goals in his first three Chelsea games, it seemed the Premier League had a new superstar.
“He has the predatory skills to rival Ruud van Nistelrooy, with something of the finesse of Thierry Henry,” reported the Guardian.
“I can’t believe that was 17 years ago,” Romanian Mutu told BBC Sport.
“In my first year at Chelsea I worked with Claudio Ranieri, a great coach, who wanted me in the squad. Without those personal problems, things would have been different…”
On 12 July 2004, less than a year after that explosive start and a little over a month since Jose Mourinho had arrived to replace Ranieri, Mutu found himself subject to a doping test.
Nothing unusual for a professional footballer, except this was not carried out by anti-doping authorities, but by Chelsea.
The club had grown suspicious after a dip in his form on the pitch and increasingly unreliable behaviour off it.
Mutu left Chelsea with a record of 10 goals in 38 appearances in all competitions
It came back negative. But another, carried out by the usual authorities two months later, showed cocaine in Mutu’s system. He was banned for seven months and summarily sacked.
“Chelsea believe the club’s social responsibility to its fans, players, employees and other stakeholders in football regarding drugs was more important than the major financial considerations to the company,” the club said as they wrote off the asset they had paid Parma north of £15m for a little over a year before.
In an unprecedented legal action, Chelsea have pursued Mutu for millions of pounds in compensation for more than a decade since.
In October 2018, the European Court of Human Rights – Mutu’s final recourse to appeal – confirmed that the Romanian owed his former club – and, ultimately, their Russian multibillionaire owner Roman Abramovich – £15.2m.
“We are exercising our legal remedies to recover the amounts owed to us and we will continue to do so,” a club spokesman said at the time.
Some 20 months on, neither Chelsea nor Mutu are offering any update on their dispute.
“It is something I don’t want to speak about,” Mutu told BBC Sport.
Plenty of others have in the past though.
Gordon Taylor, the head of the Professional Footballers’ Association, called Chelsea’s treatment of Mutu “astonishing” at the time, accusing them of failing in their duty of care.
In March 2005, less than six months after Mutu’s sacking, a survey of professional footballers in the British Medical Journal showed that 45% knew a team-mate who had used recreational drugs.
“It would perhaps be unrealistic to imagine that their use would not be common,” it concluded.
After being sacked by Chelsea Mutu moved to Juventus, via Livorno, before a successful five-year stay at Fiorentina
Mutu was later suspended for nine months in 2010 after testing positive for appetite suppressant sibutramine while playing for Fiorentina.
Now 41, he would not be drawn on Chelsea’s decision to choose litigation over rehabilitation and reconciliation with a wayward 25-year-old.
But he can reflect on what he would do in a similar situation.
In January, he was appointed as coach of his country’s under-21 side.
“I think I’m the right person because I know what happens when a player has problems with indiscipline. I’ve passed through hard moments and I came back stronger,” he added.
“If one of my players happens to make a mistake I will tell them to learn from it and not to repeat it.
“I came back and I played better than before, proving to everyone that the young players who have made a mistake must be helped, not judged and destroyed.”
Under their previous manager, Romania Under-21s beat an England team containing James Maddison, Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Tammy Abraham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin in 2019 on their way to their first European Championship semi-final at that level.
Among Mutu’s charges, if he isn’t required by the Romania senior team, is recent Rangers signing Ianis Hagi, son of the legendary Barcelona and Real Madrid playmaker Gheorghe.
“He is a player who hits the ball with both feet just as well and has an extraordinary vision on the field,” said Mutu.
“I’m sure he’ll have a great career.”
Watch: Hagi’s first league goal for Rangers
And what of Mutu’s own future?
Even with the wages from his revived career with Juventus and, most notably, Fiorentina, Chelsea’s final demand – if still unsettled – looms large.
“My ambitions as a coach cannot be lower than the ones I had as a footballer,” Mutu concluded.
“I always wanted to be better and better. I want to get to coach at least at the same level I played at, and my dream is to be the head coach of the Romanian national team.”
Mutu’s managerial career is young, but there can be few candidates with the same breadth of life experience, both good and bad.