PLAYER PROFILE – NICOLAS ANELKA

By Rowan Farnham-Long
Jan 14th, 2008

After weeks of speculation and plenty of press gossip, Avram Grant finally got his man as the long-awaited signing of Nicolas Anelka was announced on Friday evening. It is a huge relief for Grant, who has seen strikers Claudio Pizarro and Andriy Shevchenko misfire and Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba leave for the African Cup of Nations, while Anelka himself must be looking forward to testing himself at a club still contending on four fronts this season.

Anelka arrives at the club with a chequered past, but a story of success concealed behind the headlines.

He was born on 14th March 1979 in the Versailles region of France, the location of the signing of the treaty which categorically ended the First World War. The forward has been at the centre of many disputes throughout his career so far, but Anelka has always been in harmony with football, starting as a 14 year old in the world-renowned Clairefontaine academy.

He showed exceptional promise during his three years there, enough to win himself a move to French giants Paris Saint-Germain in 1994. Although he only played in a handful of games, Arsenal manager-and prominent talent spotter-Arsene Wenger splashed out half a million pounds to secure the signature of Anelka, and provide the striker with his first taste of the English game.

Anelka, then just 18, found himself behind players of the highest calibre in the Arsenal pecking order, with Ian Wright and Denis Bergkamp standing in his way. However, the 1997/98 season saw him pick up a Premier League medal as well as an FA Cup winners medal as he took over from the injured Wright, and the following campaign he continued to impress, achieving the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.

However, just as Anelka was winning friends amongst the Gooners faithful, the first “querelle” of many throughout his career occurred when he reportedly demanded more money and a higher status in the squad.

Wenger refused to cave in, and Anelka found himself shipped off to Spain, in a £22m move to the legendary Real Madrid. Despite the hype, Anelka failed to reach legendary status himself at the Bernabeau, struggling to hit the back of the net frequently despite picking up a Champions League medal in Madrid’s 3-0 trouncing of Valencia in the fitting setting of “Le Stade de France”, Paris.

France was also the location of Anelka’s next move, with a £20m move back to his teenage club Paris Saint-Germain. In his two years there, Anelka’s reputation was boosted with some impressive performances and, more importantly, goals. But his temperamental side again reared its ugly head, and after a row with the French press, PSG president Laurent Perpère claimed that: “Everything fell apart and we could not put the pieces back together.”

Anelka was to move on again, and this time it was back to the British Isles, as Liverpool manager Gérard Houllier gambled on the striker, who by this time was fast making a name for himself for all the wrong reasons. A loan move was secured, and the Frenchman managed four goals, but in truth he didn’t really impress.

With his stock rapidly falling, Manchester City snapped him up and boss Kevin Keegan was rewarded with his faith in the troubled star, witnessing some of his best football so far. Around £12m was spent, and 46 goals were bagged, which alerted bigger sides and turned Anelka’s head.

Champions League action appealed to the aspiring Anelka and that could be found at Turkish titans Fenerbahçe, his next port of call. A £7m switch saw the Frenchman fly to the Eurasian country for a turbulent year and a half, although it was a fruitful period with another league champion’s medal to add to his own personal trophy cabinet.

And so, back again to England, as then-Bolton Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce completed a major transfer coup by bringing Anelka to the Reebok Stadium for a club record fee of £8m. His first goals for the club were against his former employers Arsenal, and the Bolton fans took him to their hearts following the goal-filled months which transpired.

He signed a new four year contract in August of last year, pledging his future to the Premier League side, but his goalscoring exploits began to attract the attentions of leading clubs. Manchester United were rumoured to be interested in signing Anelka but ultimately it was Chelsea and Avram Grant who persisted and made their intentions clear.

A four-and-a-half year contract was signed on Friday, in a deal reported to cost the Blues £15m. With goals Anelka’s currency however, fans are hoping he will begin to pay back that fee as soon as possible.

Chelsea have signed a player with plenty of experience, for club, for country, and in European action. Critics will point at his controversial past and his extortionate transfer fees during his career, and sure, he hasn’t been a saint. But Anelka is hungry for success, and ambition can drive people to make mistakes. He has put his past behind him and the message is to look towards what will hopefully be a bright future.

His conversion to Islam while he was at Manchester City settled his attitude slightly, and now it seems Anelka is ready to live us to his huge promise and potential, albeit at a late stage of his career. At a time when he is hitting peak physical fitness, it looks too as if he could reach peak prominence at a club which shares his motivation for success.

I for one will back him while he is a Chelsea player, and look forward to seeing him hit the back of the net time and time again. He is famous for his butterfly sign celebration after scoring a goal; let’s hope Anelka can fly high for the Blues and soar his way to success at Stamford Bridge.

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