BOGOTA: When the drugs police slapped the handcuffs on him in Naples last month, Anthony de Avila was wearing the colours of America de Cali, the controversial Colombian club where he became a star. The former international’s arrest and conviction in Italy should be shocking but it is, in fact, just the latest chapter in an old and sordid romance between football and drug trafficking in Colombia. Nicknamed “Pitufo”, the Spanish for “Smurf”, because he is just five foot one inch (1.54m) tall, de Avila was a class act on the field, playing 54 times for Colombia. He spent most of his club career at America and remains the club’s all-time top scorer with 208 goals. He was arrested, however, on September 20 in a piazza in the centre of Naples in a scarlet club shirt. “The police had been alerted with information indicating the presence in the city of South Americans who had come to meet local traffickers,” Davide Della Cioppa, the police officer who coordinated the arrest, said. “He claimed to be a tourist, but when asked where he was staying, he replied that he was staying at the (subway) station,” which aroused the suspicions of the uniformed officers, Della Cioppa added. After taking him to a police station, Italian authorities discovered that De Avila, 58, had been sentenced to prison in 2004 for drug trafficking. The former striker “claims he is innocent and did not know he was convicted and wanted,” Fabrizio de Maio, his lawyer, told Cali’s El Pais. Yet the lawyer knows that his client is in a tight corner and that avoiding a 12-year prison sentence amounts to “mission impossible”. “We are finding out what Anthony’s situation is like at the moment to see how we can help him,” Tulio Gomez, America’s main shareholder, told the same newspaper.