The Anomalous Career of Nicolas Anelka
Nicolas Anelka born out of Le Chesnay, France is one of football’s most recognisable faces. Anelka featured for some of the biggest clubs around Europe and endured a career full of success but why was his career so abnormal?
Anelka broke through at Paris Saint-Germain in the 1996/97 season after learning his trade at the famous Clairefontaine academy. Despite having a mediocre season statistically his pace and ability to create chances was easy to spot. Arsenal acted quickly to secure his services through the Bosman ruling. This was Anelka’s first of many controversial decisions as he opted to leave at only 16 as he felt he wasn’t getting enough game time at his hometown club.
Anelka settled in immediately at Arsenal and flourished in red and white. Anelka scored 23 goals in 65 games for The Gunners - mesmerising the Premier League with his finishing and dribbling ability. He played an integral part in helping Arsenal win the double in the 1997/98 campaign.
The following season he excelled even further, finishing the season with 17 goals and winning the PFA Young Player of the Year making the Premier League look simple even for a teenager.
However, things didn’t stay so sweet for long in the capital. Anelka became unsettled at Arsenal and the lure of Real Madrid was too much to hold off. A sensational couple of years at Arsenal was put to an end when a £22.3 million bid was accepted from Real Madrid.
Life at Madrid didn’t start so well for Anelka and the move quickly started to look like a questionable decision from Anelka and his agent. He went the first ten games without finding the back of the net, this allowed the Spanish press to get on his back immediately. Spanish sports paper Marca began to hound the French forward at his home and in public.
After five months in Madrid he finally got his first goal against Al Nassr in the Fifa World Club Championship not before Marca got one last chance to mock him. This time with the headline “Anelka finally scores a goal...on a video game.”
In February of 2000 he got his first La Liga goal in a 3-0 thumping over rivals Barcelona. However, just a month later he was suspended by the club president after refusing to train because of a disagreement with head coach Vicente Del Bosque.
When Anelka eventually returned to the side he managed to get on the score sheet in both legs of the Champions League Semi Final’s against Bayern Munchen. Following impressive performances in the competition he was rewarded with a start in the final, taking place where else but his home town held at The Stade de France. Madrid would go on to be crowned champions following a convincing 3-0 win over Valencia.
Despite eventually turning things around at the Bernabeu Anelka found himself on the move once again. A £22 million move saw him return to Paris Saint-Germain where he began his career. Anelka signed a staggering six year deal with the Parisians who had just finished second in the previous season.
To Anelka’s delight he was appointed captain almost immediately but even though PSG enjoyed a positive start to the campaign they finished the season in a shocking 9th place.
A similar narrative was beginning to form into the new season for Anelka as once again he began to clash with recently appointed coach Luis Fernandez.
In December of 2001 Anelka made a shock return to The Premier League with Liverpool. Anelka joined the reds on a short term loan deal which saw him team up with French manager Gerard Houllier.
Anelka helped push Liverpool’s title race with key goals against Everton and Fulham however, Houllier opted not to offer him a permanent deal at the end of the season and instead signed El Hadji Diouf.
Soon after Kevin Keegan brought him along to Manchester City for at the time a record £13 million. Anelka flourished in sky blue, getting 14 goals in his first season including one against bitter rivals Manchester United. Anelka also scored against former clubs Arsenal and Liverpool that season. Anelka’s form continued into the next season as he claimed the top scorer award for the second season running at City this time with 25 goals to his name.
In January 2005 Anelka was jetting off again this time to Turkey. Fenerbahçe had a £7 million offer accepted which helped them claim the league title that season and allow Anelka to play in Europe’s most prestigious competition once again the next season.
However, Anelka didn’t stick around for long in Turkey and made his way back to England. A shock move to Bolton Wanderers was completed in August 2006 and Anelka put pen to paper on a four year deal.
A rollercoaster of a first season saw Anelka finish on 11 goals and soon after he would start the transfer talks once again but following talks with Sammy Lee he was convinced to stay. A negative start to the season and a run of poor results would result in Anelka threatening to leave again but later on in the 2007/08 he signed yet another four year deal. In a recent interview Anelka admitted he signed the extension so Bolton would receive a higher fee when he inevitably left.
In January of 2008 Anelka was upping sticks yet again in a transfer down to the Capital to team up with Avram Grant at Chelsea. Anelka scored his first couple of goals in an FA Cup game against Wigan but his first big impact in Chelsea blue was a penalty shootout miss in the Champions League final against Manchester United which handed them the trophy. Anelka later went on to blame his manager for the miss as he believed he wasn’t given long enough to warm up.
The new season got underway with Didier Drogba injured which allowed Anelka to start the majority of the opening games this resulted in the Frenchman getting ten goals by the middle of November. After the arrival of Guus Hiddink, Anelka was played as more of a winger but he managed to keep his place in the team and finished the season with the Golden Boot.
The next season Anelka started strong again especially in the Champions League and helped propel Chelsea to the top of the league for the vast majority of the season. On the final day Anelka bagged two goals to secure Chelsea the title. The 2009/10 title was Chelsea’s first in four years and with trophies falling from the sky at Stamford Bridge Anelka was rewarded with a one year extension.
In the wake of the 2009/10 campaign Anelka joined up with the French National squad for the 2010 World Cup. Things didn’t go as planned for France and they were even more unpleasant for Anelka as he was sent home following an argument with boss Raymond Domenech during half time of 2-0 defeat to Mexico. Domenech began to complain at Anelka’s positioning which prompted Anelka to reportedly respond with “Va te faire enculer, sale fils de pute”, which I’ll allow you to translate if you wish.
Anelka went on to leave Chelsea in 2012 for a lucrative move to China with Shanghai Shenhua which didn’t go as planned as Anelka returned only 3 goals in 22 league outings.
Anelka also had a loan move at Juventus in 2013 and then a permanent move to West Brom. Controversy unsurprisingly followed Anelka to The Hawthorns too. Anelka’s quenelle celebration came after a brace against West Ham. The action cost Anelka a five game ban and a fine of £80,000. The Frenchman placed his left hand flat on the bicep of his downward-facing, outstretched right arm, a gesture known as the quenelle. Anelka stated that it was a gesture for a comedian friend back in France however, the celebration soon got tagged as a reference to a Nazi salute.
Anelka tweeted: “The meaning of quenelle is anti-system. I don’t know what it has to do with religion. The sign was for Dieudonne. I’m not anti-Semitic or racist and take responsibility for my gesture.”
A player-coach role was Anelka’s next career move as he travelled over to Mumbai City FC. He only lasted a year and has since had a coaching role at Lille.
Anelka undeniably had a controversial career, racking up 12 different clubs and plenty of time on the front of newspaper and TV screens however, due to off field antics his on field ability sometimes can be forgotten. Anelka is one of the Premier League’s most successful and talented footballers. 125 goals safely secures him in the Premier League 100 club amongst some of the greats which is where he belongs.
Maybe Anelka burst onto the scene too early or perhaps he didn’t have the right people around him but one things for sure he was a fantastic footballer.