At first glance, Nicolas Anelka has had a glittering career. He’s represented some of the most prestigious clubs in European football, helped to guide some of those clubs to honours, won international trophies with France, and now, even at 34, is still deemed good enough to play for a club in the top flight of English football.
That’s one side of the story; the pleasant narrative to Anelka’s career. The other side is that he is a journeyman striker who has been unable to settle at one club for a lengthy period of time, bar his four-year spell at Chelsea.
There are others around Europe and the world who have adopted the moniker as a journeyman, but those are generally based on footballing reasons. Anelka has been moved on regularly, once only staying at a club for a period of six months, due to his own behaviour; a trait that makes it almost impossible to fault others for the eventual breakdown in the relationship.
The Frenchman, nicknamed Le Sulk, has fallen out with managers on more than one occasion. France were disgraced at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, stemming from Anelka’s verbal attack on then coach Raymond Domenech.
He appeared disinterested when he missed a crucial penalty in the 2008 Champions League final, then going on to blame Avram Grant. After his time at Chelsea, his stay in China with Shanghai Shenhua came to an end after a year following an altercation with a fan over Anelka’s refusal to bow in front of the support.
His latest action involving the “quenelle” gesture is a new low for Anelka, with connotations of racism attached to the sign.
It speaks further of Anelka the man over Anelka the footballer. Controversy follows him around, despite his obvious talent and ability to contribute at the highest level of the game. At 34, ignorance, naivety and stubbornness are still regular traits of his personality. As a teenager at Arsenal and at Real Madrid following his move from north London, he may have been excused for displays of petulance.
But with such little time left at the top of the European game, and following the most recent controversy, it appears unlikely Anelka will have an opportunity to right the wrongs of his career.