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NEW DELHI :

Romanian striker Adrian Mutu has trodden the fine line between a rare talent and a rare talent gone awry. With two doping bans (for cocaine), a contract breach saga with Chelsea in 2005 and a perennial bad boy image haunting him, his career could well have ended.

But Mutu hasn’t allowed this. Having scored 154 goals in club football, 101 of which came in the Serie A, the most difficult league for forwards, the Romanian is regarded as one of the brighter striking talents of his generation. The 36-year-old is now playing for FC Pune City in the Indian Super League (ISL). Edited excerpts from a phone interview:

What convinced you to play in the ISL?

I am curious about the new experience. I know the league was popular and well managed last year, so I’m really looking forward to it. It’s been a good start so far, all the conditions, facilities in Turkey have been great for our training.

You have played in some of the biggest leagues in the world. At this stage of your career, does playing in lesser-known leagues still provide a buzz?

Yeah, I think so. I know a lot of people will be watching us. I am still part of a team and there’s a trophy we are playing for. There are lots of leagues coming up now, there’s even one in the US (USA, Major League Soccer). ISL is at the beginning, I am glad I can give it a helping hand. Hopefully, it will help develop the game in India.

What was it like growing up in Romania; what role did football play?

Football was like a religion for us. It was a Soviet state till I was 10 years old, my parents were teachers. So there was nothing to do but to go to school and play football.

Lack of facilities and infrastructure have been seen as a major problem in Indian football. Are those things overrated in some ways?

From what I have seen so far, the facilities in India are what we had (in Romania) about 15 years ago. When you are a kid, you don’t need anything but a ball and a field. But you have to give them at least that much.

For a lot of athletes coming out of former Soviet countries, sport was their ticket to a better life. Was that one of the motivations for you too?

Of course, there was always the possibility to go and play somewhere in Europe. That was the dream. When I did achieve my dream (joining Inter Milan in 2000 at the age of 21), that feeling was unique. For me to play in the best of stadiums, the best of facilities, was incredible. It’s something that I can never forget.

You have played most of your pro career in Italy. Is that the toughest league for a forward?

It is a very hard championship. Tactically it is very evolved. It makes life very difficult for strikers because we don’t have a lot of space. For me, the biggest challenge was to succeed in that atmosphere.

Racism has plagued Italian football, and you have been at the receiving end of it.

I have played in Italy for a long time and I don’t think the country is like that. There are a couple of ignorants in the stadium. But I don’t want to remember those things. When you are on the pitch, at that moment it affects you, but then life goes on.

Having being caught in it once, what do you think of the whole club versus country debate? Should clubs get to dictate which matches their players play in or not?

No, I don’t think clubs should (have a say). Of course, they pay us, but for football players, playing for their country is the highest honour. For me personally, playing for Romania was very important and it is something I would never have refused.

What do you make of constant media scrutiny, especially with social media now in the picture?

That is a lot of pressure. Even dealing with journalists is. Sometimes they write things that are not really true. Their mistakes, you can’t do much. As players, we are constantly aware of that, but it’s another part of being a professional footballer. You have to learn to not let it affect you.

There have been a lot of controversies in your career. Now that you are older and wiser, how do you look back on them?

I look back; yes, I made the mistakes but I also got over them. But I don’t think over them too much. I don’t see them as something that harmed my career. In that sense, I have no regrets. I am happy about where I am at the moment. My career is not over yet. Maybe my football career is nearing the end but I am already looking at a possibility of managing, coaching teams in the future.

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