The Redemption of Nicolas AnelkaBy: Laurie | January 2nd, 2008
He’s now twenty-eight years old and has switched teams seven times, frequently leaving frustrated fans and management in his wake. He was not selected for France’s 2006 World Cup team, even after Djibril Cisse broke his leg. The British tabloids have nicknamed him “The Incredible Sulk,” or just “Le Sulk.”
It would be easy to write off Anelka as just another wasted talent who never quite reached his potential. Easy, and wrong. Because Nicolas Anelka is undergoing an amazing career resurgence that seems to have one main cause: He’s grown up.
Amazing in a footballer, no?
He’s dumped the brothers/managers who were leading him to put money ahead of performance. He’s found stability by converting to Islam. He’s gotten married. And he’s worked his butt off at Bolton, throwing everything into a team a lot of star players would consider beneath them.
That work got the attention of France coach Raymond Domenech, who gave Nico another chance for France. Anelka responded by scoring key goals in several must-win Euro qualifiers. He has slowly managed to work his way back into the starting lineup and become a fan favorite.
A French restaurant has even named a burger after him. Heavy on the pepper.
Anelka has been one of my favorite players for awhile now. I love his style of play — the way he toys with defenders before blasting past them, a lot like Thierry Henry in his prime. For the past year I’ve been watching the transfer windows, hoping he’ll get one last shot at a Champions League team. Last winter and summer the rumors were flying, but in the end Anelka’s reputation seemed to keep the big deals from being signed.
So he kept plugging away at Bolton, scoring ten goals so far this season and almost single-handedly keeping them out of the relegation zone. (This is even more impressive when you consider that he doesn’t take penalties.)
And now it seems that managers are finally realizing that this transformation is for real. Rumors are strongly linking him to Chelsea as a key player who can help them get through the African Cup of Nations in the absence of Didier Drogba. And if not Chelsea, there’s a chance of Manchester United, Liverpool or Man City.
It wasn’t so long ago, watching Anelka play, that I thought, “I’ll bet this guy burned ants with a magnifying glass as a child.” Now I watch him before France games, calmly giving advice to the young up-and-comers like Samir Nasri, and I think,
“I’ll bet he could teach them a lot about how to manage their careers. And about how not to.”