Nicolas Anelka is back in the headlines with a new Netflix documentary – ‘Misunderstood’ – being released.
The Frenchman was no stranger to the backpages during his playing days, which saw him take in some of the world’s best club’s and achieve much more than most players can dream of.
Arsenal, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Juventus were all stops in his career which also took him to Fenerbahce, Shanghai Shenhua, and Mumbai City.
Those who, at various stages of his life, criticised his work ethic and attitude can’t have seen the mileage he got out of a playing career which lasted from the age of 17 to 36.
It saw him lift four league titles in three different countries, including a double at Arsenal, a Champions League at Real Madrid, and a European Championship with France.
Anelka had his difficulties, sure, don’t we all. He rubbed managers and teammates the wrong way, but he also possessed talent to make him one of the continent’s finest strikers for more than a decade, getting goals for fun, even with Bolton Wanderers and Manchester City.
His Premier League renaissance with the Trotters and then at Chelsea, between 2006 and 2011, saw him net 81 times in 230 games, despite battling the likes of Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Andriy Shevchenko, Fernando Torres for the final ball.
We’ve all heard the comments about his personality, he was branded with ‘Le Sulk’ from a tender age.
A moody brat, many thought, and money hungry as he sauntered from Arsenal to Real Madrid.
Arsene Wenger warned him: “No matter how much money you earn, you can only eat three meals a day and sleep in one bed.”
A Champions League triumph with Los Blancos in 2000 will have helped Anelka get over it.
But what else has been said about Anelka one of the game’s greatest enigmas? talkSPORT.com takes a look.
Nicolas Anelka’s honours
Premier League x2
FA Cup x3
Serie A x1
Turkish Super Lig x1
Champions League x1
UEFA Intertoto Cup x1
UEFA European Championships x1
FIFA Confederations Cup x1
Premier League Golden Boot x1
PFA Team of the Year x2
PFA Young Player of the Year x1
Vicente Del Bosque
The legendary Spain manager revealed Anelka accused his Real Madrid teammates of not being happy for his success.
He said: “Anelka was a player that cost us a lot of money.
“Real Madrid wasted €25m (£22.3m) on him and he was signed as a star.
“He came into the dressing room one day and told us that we were not happy for his success, that we weren’t celebrating his goals.
“He didn’t come to training for a day or two and the club fined him.”
Anelka’s ties to Arsenal are strange.
At the time of him leaving, there was bad blood but since he’s been named in lists about their greatest players, while his ex-teammates are often complimentary.
‘Best 17-year-old I’ve ever seen,” said Keown. “In fact, everything [Thierry] Henry did, I think Anelka could have done for Arsenal if he’d had wanted to stay.”
Another famous member of the Arsenal defence was also a big fan of Anelka’s talents at a young age.
“Just in the warm-up, before getting the balls out, he looked an absolute pure athlete,” Dixon told The Athletic. “I remember I was running flat out and he was just skimming across the grass, barely touching it.
“We had a practice match, 11v11, in one of his first sessions. The team was mixed up and he was on our side. He made it so easy… We realised we could basically hit the ball over the top and however bad a pass you hit, he’d get on the end of it. He was just instantly a brilliant finisher. Thierry and Dennis [Bergkamp] struggled to hit the net to begin with but Anelka was an absolute natural.”
While Dixon added: “He was just really shy and introverted, but he was ballsy when he was out on the pitch. That was his stage, that was where he felt comfortable.”
Anelka signed on loan at Liverpool in January 2002 but despite a decent end to their 2001/02, Gerard Houllier signed El-Hadji Diouf instead.
It’s a transfer many around the club, with hindsight, seem to regret.
“We did well together and we had a good understanding,” said Heskey. “Everything clicked quite well and he is a phenomenal player. Even then he had a lot to offer. I’m surprised that we didn’t keep him but it is just one of those things.
“He was underrated and a lot of people will look at him and say they know how good he was, but a lot don’t realise how good he actually was. His ability, how sharp he was, how clinical he was when it comes to finishing, how quick he was – he had everything. He was more refined when he came to Liverpool and he was more of a senior player.
“He would only have been about 24 but he had been to Real Madrid and he had played in different countries. PSG, Real Madrid and Arsenal – he had learned a lot about football and different aspects.
“We were getting a great player and without a doubt, it was one that was missed, not signing him, but you move on and you try and push forward.”
Concurring with Heskey, Liverpool legend Gerrard insisted Anelka was the striker Reds players wanted, not Diouf, and it clearly still rankles.
Once the striker hit his stride with Liverpool they won 13 of their final 15 games giving them a second place finish.
In 2002/03, they could only manage fifth and it could have been a worse finish too, a League Cup win putting the gloss on a poor campaign.
Gerrard saw signing Diouf, who managed just six goals that season, as a big mistake.
“I think at the back end of the treble season I was like if we get the next two or three signings right then we can compete for it, but we never, and we got them drastically wrong.
“El-Hadji Diouf wasn’t the right signing, we should have taken Anelka. Salif Diao stiffened us up but never took us to the next level. But I think the signings at that time never went in our favour.”
“It was more manager led,” he added. “We used to have a chief scout around, but I’d say Houllier had the final say on signings.
“I remember being in the meeting room and he was trying to get a feeling from the senior players whether he should sign Diouf or Anelka and Anelka had been on loan, and across the board, amongst the players it was Anelka…and he went for Diouf,” said Gerrard laughing, “which was, in my opinion, to this day still the wrong move.”
His reputation proceeded him wherever he went but when he was on someone’s good side they loved him.
“Nicolas hasn’t caused us a minute’s trouble,” Keegan said during one Anelka’s best spells. “He has been the model professional, he has mixed well and he has found the right club. From what I have seen so far, I wouldn’t swap him with anyone in the world.”
Keegan was even bemused Houllier hadn’t landed him permanently at Anfield.
“Liverpool had a date to take the option of signing him and Nicolas waited until the last day, which shows he wanted to stay there. He was confused, but only Gérard Houllier can give you his reasons.”
And the ex-England boss loved the fact he frightened opponents too.
“He is so talented, that the opposition still have to keep extra defenders back, because they are never going to leave him one on one.
“He is developing as a person and as a player, is working very hard for the cause and deserves everything coming his way.
“I think you can say it was a first-class signing. And I owe my old mate Tosh [John Toshack] a drink when I next see him!”
When Big Sam, who had a knack of landing top stars unexpectedly, got the Frenchman in at Bolton, one of his first comments proved to be totally correct.
“I think it is the smallest gamble we have ever taken,” he told the media. “Nic’s record speaks for itself”.
After 23 goals in 61 games across two seasons, it’s safe to say all parties were happy.
With pace to burn, the Frenchman was always going to be a star, but one facet of his game truly appealed to his manager at Bolton.
“The classic Anelka goal is him running at defenders from outside the box, or playing the ball through the defence for him to run on to. He’s the master of one against one with the goalkeeper.”
The ex-Paris Saint-Germain boss handed Anelka his debut and appears to have great affection for him but believes he was led astray.
“Sometimes I think of Nicolas in his early days. He’s someone who wanted to play, to succeed. He had enormous potential. When he started out, a certain entourage of bad advisers drew him to the dark side… Nicolas badly negotiated the different turns of his career, at least the first. He wanted to go too fast.”