Manchester City have suspended Kolo Touré after he became the first footballer at a Premier League club to fail a drugs test since Adrian Mutu in 2004.
Touré tested positive for a “specified substance” in a routine examination and City acted quickly after being informed by the Football Association that the former Arsenal defender is facing a range of punishments up to a two-year ban. The club have not released further details but the World Anti-Doping Agency defines the substance for which he tested positive in a category as “more susceptible to a credible, non-doping explanation”.
That raises the possibility that Touré may have unwittingly taken an illegal substance as part of an over-the-counter medicine or dietary supplement, though details are unclear at this stage. Either way, the 29-year-old faces the possibility of a stringent punishment that will place his career at Eastlands in jeopardy. He will have to justify his reasons for taking the substance and the circumstances surrounding them.
Rio Ferdinand was banned for eight months in 2003 after missing a drugs test and Paddy Kenny is the clearest example of how taking the wrong cold cure can have serious ramifications, receiving a nine-month ban in 2009 when he was a Sheffield United player.
Kenny, now at Queens Park Rangers, admitted having ephedrine in his system but maintained that he had simply been taking a cough medicine to combat a chest infection. More recently the Hamilton midfielder Simon Mensing served a month-long suspension after he tested positive for the methylhexaneamine, which was present in a dietary supplement.
UK Anti-Doping warned athletes last November to be vigilant about the possible presence of banned substances in dietary supplements that are freely available on the high street.
Mensing missed five games after testing positive for the substance in a supplement despite seeking advice from two retailers and his club fitness coach. A label on the front of the packaging apparently said: “No Banned substances.”
Neither the FA nor City have stated when the test took place, but Touré played in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home to Fulham. He was not involved in the 3-0 FA Cup defeat of Aston Villa on Wednesday, the implication being that he was informed in the run-up to the match.
“Manchester City confirm that the FA has informed Kolo Touré that an ‘A-sample’ provided by him has tested positive for a specified substance,” the club said in a statement. “As result of this, he has been suspended from participating in all first-team and non-first-team matches pending the outcome of the legal process. There will be no further comment from the football club at this stage.”
The first step for Touré will be to decide whether or not to request a B-test and deliver a full report to the FA about the circumstances surrounding the alleged offence. Footballers are warned against taking medicines without specific advice because of the possibility they may be infringing the rules.
Wada says the prohibited list may include “specified substances which are particularly susceptible to unintentional anti-doping rule violations because of their general availability in medicines or which are less likely to be abused as doping agents”.
Touré joined City for £14m in 2009 after spending the previous seven years at Arsenal. Mark Hughes, the City manager at the time, appointed him as the club captain, and he has remained an integral player even though Roberto Mancini appointed Carlos Tevez as the new captain at the start of the season.
The strong likelihood is that Touré will not be involved for the rest of the season and it cannot even be certain when his case will be heard. The complex legalities involved make it a slow process and, if he is to receive a long ban, it is not certain City will want to keep him on their payroll, as Manchester United did with Ferdinand.
Mancini is not short of options at centre-half, with Jérôme Boateng, Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott and Vincent Kompany all in contention, but he did give serious consideration to bringing in another player for that position in the January transfer window. Touré’s performances have generally been good this season but the management at Eastlands are still not overly convinced he has the quality for a club of their ambitions.
The prospect of a high-profile legal case involving one of their multi-million-pound footballers is also unlikely to go down well in Abu Dhabi, where the club’s billionaire owners are particularly conscious of the image of the club and keen to bring in a new sense of professionalism.
Touré’s absence places his brother, Yaya, in a difficult position, though the £25m signing from Barcelona was excellent in the defeat of Villa, scoring the opening goal and setting up the second for Mario Balotelli.