From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.48 :: Nov. 28, 2009

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FOOTBALL

Anelka building bridges

Thirteen seasons after a gangling French teenager, blessed with lightning pace and a superb eye for goal, took his English top-flight bow for Arsenal, Nicolas Anelka, 30, finally looked at home as the league’s top marksman in the royal blue of Chelsea. Over to Chris Evans.

On the final day of last season, Nicolas Anelka rattled in a 20-yard strike against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

The 47th minute goal gave Chelsea the lead in a game that ultimately proved to be a dead rubber, but for the Frenchman the moment was to herald a milestone of particular importance.

Anelka’s goal was his 19th of what was the most productive season of his entire career, and ensured he kept the irrepressible Cristiano Ronaldo at bay to claim the English Premier League Golden Boot award for being the division’s top goal-scorer.

Thirteen seasons after a gangling French teenager, blessed with lightning pace and a superb eye for goal, took his English top-flight bow for Arsenal, Anelka, 30, finally looked at home as the league’s top marksman in the royal blue of Chelsea.

In a nomadic and sometimes controversial career that has canvassed four countries and eight football clubs, the product of the much lauded French Clairefontaine Football Academy seemed to have cracked it; he was now happy, liked, and successful at one of Europe’s top football clubs.

When then-manager Avram Grant convinced Roman Abramovich to open his cheque book and spend GBP15 million on the Bolton Wanderers’ hotshot, some eyebrows were raised. Few people doubted Anelka’s goal-scoring credentials, or his potential to turn in match-winning performances; but many felt it might prove to be an expensive gamble Chelsea may regret if Grant failed to get the best out of his new signing, and the famous ’Le Sulk’ reared his ugly head once more.

Anelka’s tumultuous reputation comes as a result of his inability to settle at many of the clubs he has played for, and the acrimonious exits that have followed. Having started out at Paris St. Germain in 1995, Anelka, 17, moved to London in February 1997 to join up with countryman Arsene Wenger and Arsenal’s French revolution.

First team opportunities were at a premium though, as he played behind Gunners’ legends Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright in the Highbury pecking order, and Anelka’s first EPL goal came the following season as he netted the first goal of a 3-2 Arsenal win against Manchester United.

The Versailles born player benefited from a long term injury to Wright to cement a regular place in the first team, and played a major role in Arsenal’s double winning season — scoring nine times, one of which came in the English FA Cup final success against Newcastle United.

The season after didn’t match the heady heights of the one previous, however, and although Anelka scored 18 goals and scooped the 1998-99 PFA Young Player of the Year Award, Arsenal surrendered their titles to the treble-winning Manchester United.

Anelka was subject of a lot of transfer speculation, and was criticised by his own fans after he appeared to lack the enthusiasm of his earlier displays. An inevitable GBP22.3 million transfer to Real Madrid followed, but Anelka didn’t enjoy his stay in Spain and was at one point suspended by coach Vicente del Bosque for 45 days after refusing to train. He moved back to Paris St. Germain in 2000. After an 18-month spell back in Paris where he scored 19 goals, Anelka’s roaming instincts again took hold, and, after a six-month loan spell at Liverpool, he signed for Manchester City in a then-club record GBP13 million deal.

Rumours continued to surround the France international as he continued to be courted by several clubs while scoring goals for City, and his next clubs were Fenerbahce and Bolton.

While in Lancashire, Anelka was top-scorer at the Reebok Stadium, yet he still seemed tempted by pastures new and old, claiming he would have to leave Wanderers after a poor start to the 2007-08 season and that he would love to return to Arsenal.

Despite his club-hopping antics, Anelka has managed to forge a successful international career, having made over 60 appearances for Les Bleus, and being part of the squads that won the European Championship in 2000 and the Confederations Cup the year after. Now, finally settled under Carlo Ancelotti’s tutelage at Chelsea, Anelka cuts the impression of a more measured individual who is more inclined to let his feet do the talking. Only time will truly tell.

Anelka married Belgian choreographer and dancer Barbara Tausia in a civil ceremony in Paris in the summer of 2007. He reportedly owns a Bentley Continental GT, but has also been seen driving an Aston Martin. He bought his first car while at Arsenal, a Mercedes.

FACTFILE

Name: Nicolas Anelka

Position: Striker

Club: Chelsea

D.O.B.: 14/03/1979

France caps: 61

France goals: 13

France debut: vs Sweden, 22/04/1998

Moment to remember

Nicolas Anelka, as a 19-year-old, scored Arsenal’s second goal in the 2-0 English FA Cup Final success against Newcastle United. The goal added to a first-half Marc Overmars’ strike to help secure a famous league and cup ’double’ for the Gunners. On a personal note, Anelka’s late goal in the 1-1 draw with West Ham last December saw him join the exclusive EPL 100 goals club.

Moment to forget

Anelka stepped up to miss the crucial penalty in Chelsea’s 6-5 shoot-out defeat to Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final. Edwin van der Sar’s save meant heartbreak for the Blues, and that the European Cup went back to Old Trafford for a third time.

© PA Sport, 2009, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.



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