So a slightly unbelievable rumor has come true and Nico Anelka has agreed terms with Chinese Super League team Shanghai Shenhua. After the Blue’s 3-0 win over Newcastle the Frenchman put in a horribly tedious and inevitable transfer request (along with Brazilian Alex) and, just over a week later, the Shanghai outfit announced the transfer, which is supposedly worth £175,000 a week.
The whole nine day event made me very hormonal. I was elated at the news of Le Sulk’s transfer, then saddened as he became increasingly linked to Shenhua. Finally, I am depressed that the move is going through.
Firstly, I am not liking the look of things to come. The combination of players in the their twilight years and continental league’s lower physical standards melds uncannily with freshly purchased clubs packing a blank cheque with an eye for marquee signings.
Henry to New York Red Bulls, Eto’o to Anzhi Makhachkala, even Javier Pastore to Paris Saint-Germain. And now Anelka to Shenhua is painting a picture of the future. Now, it’s not that I don’t want to see the expansion and promotion of continental football; yhese countries invariably have different philosophies to European football, not just in the game, but in the business sense as well, and any promotion of these philosophies has to be a good thing.
I just feel there is still a place for these big players in the European game. I don’t want to see the future Forlans (32), Zanettis (38), and Maldinis (41) finishing their career before it’s over.
The second gripe had been with Nicolas’ motivation for transferring. He clearly didn’t feel he was getting enough playing time and would have to force a move away to rectify this. Now of course, Nico’s never been the most agreeable player to manage; wage demands at Arsenal, refusing to train at Real Madrid, and issues at Paris Saint-Germain. Not to mention the French coup staged at the 2010 World Cup against Raymond Domenech.
That last club example is very notable. Anelka fell out with PSG manager Luis Fernandez over a training-meets-work ethic issue. Anelka’s stats there read okay though, and this is a running theme. Although he has never been the most manageable or sociable player, the ‘outside’ has seldom affected his game.
Bearing that in mind, one would have to assume that Anelka, a proven Prem player, was performing as well as he could (as he usually has) and not getting a game. My point is, this move was not an act of disruption or unprofessionalism, but of desperation. In the high cost-high expectation world that teams like Chelsea inhabit, proven players (and proven managers) don’t get very much leeway.
No matter your all-time form – if you aren’t playing well in one or two games expect to be on the bench. If you then fail to impact from the bench (a nightmarish scenario for a goalscorer) expect to be watching three times as many minutes as you’ll be playing.
Detractors might bring up the fact that Anelka has only scored one goal this season, against West Brom, in nine appearances. The picture changes however when we look at playing minutes instead of appearances.
This season Niko has only got one complete game, and wouldn’t you know it – it was the West Brom game. In fact Anelka was given only 420 minutes of playing time up until the Newcastle game. Compare that to the 543 minutes Fernando Torres took to get his two goals in the same time. I know I wouldn’t feel 12o minutes worse than Torres if I were Nicolas.
I know Villas-Boas is looking to change the Chelsea team dynamic (just ask Lampard) but I feel that all too often Anelka was taken off the bench to save the game, when, after his three highly successful previous seasons, he deserved more than that.
Lastly but not leastly, is the true reason for my depression: I just didn’t want to see him go. Now, I’m not a blues fan, but I am a football fan. And for me Nicolas Anelka was one of the best Premier League footballers ever.
First thing to look at is his consistency: 123 Premier League goals. And a lot of these goals were scored with the similar pace and danger that Anelka’s friend Henry possessed. In between the Prem clubs he was competing in the French Ligue 1 (twice), the Spanish La Liga, and the Turkish Super Lig. All top competions.
He broke the transfer record with his move to Real Madrid and has racked up a mighty aggregate worth of around £90 million, impressive compared to someone like Kaka’s £63 million. A fair few players begin at clubs like Arsenal and then fail to get a break at clubs like Real Madrid. They, like Anelka, then flitter between clubs; loan moves, Turkey, struggling to settle. Then they end up at Bolton for £8 million.
Very few however, will then score 21 goals in 53 games over two seasons and turn up on the receiving end of a £15 million transfer from the League champions. And it isn’t hard to see why; just look at the complete quality of his two goals in an unforgettable performance against Arsenal in 2006 (Bolton’s 2nd & 3rd):
This form progressed while at Chelsea and Anelka picked up the Golden Boot for the 2008-09 season. The last three seasons that have seen him undeserving of a place at Chelsea consisted of 56 goals in all competitions, easily comparable to the much lauded Torres and Drogba.
The thing that always struck me about Anelka as a player, and the thing that was telling of his class, was the way he made time on the ball. Whenever he got the ball, he seemed to slow time. Defenders wouldn’t be able to get at him, he had ages to look around and pick a pass or go past a defender. It was that, combined with his great pace, which saw him always rated so highly in my mind.
Goodbye Nico, I dislike everything your move stands for, but I will miss you.