After a career punctuated by ill-discpline and controversy, Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka seems to have finally found his feet in West London and put his stormy past behind him. On Saturday the Frenchman will line up against Arsenal, the club where it all began.
It was in February 1997 that Anelka first arrived on English shores. Newly appointed Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger paid £500,000 to take the highly rated 17-year-old from Paris Saint-Germain to North London, and it proved a typically shrewd acquisition.
Anelka made his first team breakthrough during Arsenal's double-winning 1997/98 season (pictured below) following an injury to Ian Wright. He became an important first team player, scoring his most important goal for the Gunners in their 2-0 FA Cup final victory against Newcastle United. The following season Anelka continued to excel, scoring 17 Premier League goals and winning the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.
Arsenal failed to secure any silverware that year, however, and as Anelka sought a move to a bigger club, the fans turned against him, nicknaming him "Le Sulk" for his perceived lack of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, in the years that followed, Anelka would prove that this ill-discipline was far from a one-off.
So it was in the summer of 1999 that Anelka moved to Spanish giants Real Madrid for a huge £22.3m fee. Precociously talented, the Frenchman looked to have the world at his feet, but despite a bright start at the Bernabeu, his fiery temperament and bad attitude proved his undoing. He left Madrid for old club PSG for £20m after just one season, having fallen out with teammates, fans and new coach Vicente del Bosque. Once banned for 45 days for refusing to train, Anelka was deemed surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu despite playing a crucial role in Real Madrid's successful 1999/00 Champions League campaign.
Anelka made a return to the Premier League in 2002 when he joined Gerard Houllier's Liverpool on a short-term loan, but when Houllier opted against signing him at the end of the season, he ended up at Manchester City for another large fee, this time £13m. Anelka settled in at Maine Road nicely, top scoring for the club with 14 goals in his first season. He bettered that total the following year, but in 2005 the nomadic striker moved to Turkish side Fenerbache for £7m.
After Fenerbache it was Bolton Wanderers. Anelka signed for the Trotters for £8m in 2006, but after a season and a half and an impressive 23 goals, Chelsea came in for him with a £15m bid and Anelka joined his eighth different club, and his fifth in the Premier League.
Anelka took time to settle in at Stamford Bridge, but in 2008/09 he impressed with a total of 25 goals. He has gone on to become an important player for the Blues, and in the 2009/10 season he formed a devastating partnership with Didier Drogba, firing the West Londoners to a Premier League and FA Cup double, his first since his Arsenal days.
Anelka made his France debut way back in 1998 and scored 14 goals in 69 caps, but it is not an international career that will be remembered fondly. Anelka caused a storm of controversy at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when he was sent home for verbally abusing coach Raymond Domenech. He received an 18-game international ban for his actions, but claimed he had already made his decision to retire before his ban was announced.
In total, seven different clubs have paid a total of £86.8m for Anelka since 1997. His controversial past does not mask his wonderful talent, and the 32-year-old is no longer the trouble-maker he once was. The argument that he could have made more of his career is a strong one, but Anelka has still proved himself to be one of the most dangerous strikers in Europe. When he takes to the field against Arsenal this Saturday, he will have another opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.
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