‘The beautiful game’ has seen many polarising figures grace the pitch. However, few in the world of football can claim to have divided opinion quite like Nicolas Anelka.
The new Netflix original Anelka: Misunderstood centre’s around several key – and largely controversial – events in the Frenchman’s career. We first see Nico in his youth growing up and playing football for local teams, before going on to the famous Clairefontaine academy, where many of the greatest players to ever take the field for ‘Les Bleus’ earnt their stripes.
It is here we see Nico’s immense talent begin to emerge. His pace, dribbling ability, and finishing were unmatched even at a young age. At age 16 Nico was arguably already good enough to play for PSG’s first team but felt that he wasn’t getting the opportunities to showcase his talent. As a result, the Frenchman decided that he wanted to leave his hometown club.
This was the first controversy of Anelka’s career, as in France at the time youth players were required to sign their first contract with the club that trained them. However, Anelka was able to escape French shores using the Bosman ruling – a law which allows for the freedom of movement for footballers – and joined Arsenal.
Despite his young age, Anelka performed incredibly well for ‘The Gunners’, scoring 23 goals in 65 games. Nico’s performances helped Arsenal win the double in the 1997-98 season. He then finished the following season as the club’s top scorer with 17 Premier League goals, winning the PFA Young Player of the Year in the process. This should have been just the beginning of a long and glorious career in red and white, but with Nico nothing is that easy.
‘This should have been just the beginning of a long and glorious career in red and white, but with Nico nothing is that easy’
Like many young strikers who seem to have it all far too early in their career, Anelka wasn’t satisfied with a club of Arsenal’s level and moved to Real Madrid for £22.3 million. Nico didn’t have the dream start in the Spanish capital that he was hoping for, failing to score in his first 10 games and feeling unwelcome. This was the beginning of the striker’s difficult relationship with the media, as Spanish sports paper Marca began hounding him outside his home.
However, Anelka would end up playing a big part in Real Madrid’s 2000 Champions League victory, scoring in both legs of Los Blancos’ Semi-Final tie with Bayern Munich. Still, Anelka was a scapegoat at the Bernabeu and would end up at Manchester City, after a short spell back at PSG and a loan move to Liverpool.
Nico would perform well in sky blue despite not having a great deal of quality surrounding him, scoring 25 goals in his second season. Anelka states in the documentary that he had a good relationship with his coach Kevin Keegan, which made for a better situation than the icy relationship he shared with Vicente Del Bosque. Anelka’s performances led to him once again being back in contention for a place in the French national squad. However, Nico had a public spat with manager Jacques Santini after Santini told him “if I don’t pick you, it’s because I don’t know you”. This lead to Anelka declining a call-up for a game against Yugoslavia, not the last time that he would get into hot water with the national team.
After leaving City, Anelka would have un-noteworthy spells with Fenerbahce and Bolton Wanderers before joining Chelsea. Nico would have a fantastic spell at the Bridge, winning the double in the 2009-2010 season as well as finishing top scorer the previous season with 19 goals. However, during the documentary, the player would explain that he could never be truly happy at Chelsea after missing the penalty which secured Manchester United’s victory in the 2008 Champions League Final.
Anelka would eventually end up at West Bromwich Albion, where he would make his most controversial mistake. After Anelka scored his first goal for the baggies, he would perform the quenelle, a hand gesture popularised by French comedian Dieudonne. The gesture was interpreted to be an inverted Nazi salute and Anelka faced punishment for performing an anti-Semitic gesture, despite the FA ruling that he himself was not anti-Semitic. Anelka was suspended for five matches and left the Hawthorns soon afterward.
The highlight of the documentary is undoubtedly the scandal surrounding Anelka’s dismissal from the French national team squad at the 2010 World Cup – still to this day one of the most unbelievable series of events ever to take place at a World Cup. Anelka reportedly called French coach Raymond Domenech a “son of a whore” during the half time break of a 2-0 loss to Mexico in the French team’s second game. Anelka, as well as other players including the team captain Patrice Evra, stated that whilst he did have a disagreement with the manager those weren’t the words he used.
‘The highlight of the documentary is undoubtedly the scandal surrounding Anelka’s dismissal from the French national team squad at the 2010 World Cup- still to this day one of the most unbelievable series of events ever to take place at a World Cup’
Furthermore, Domenech, years later, said that Anelka didn’t use those words, which in classic TV fashion you see Nico react to in the documentary. However, the disagreement was reported to French sports paper L’Equipe, who began very public defamation of the striker.
This is all summarised fantastically in the documentary, with the famous scenes of the French team refusing to train while Domenech read out their statement opposing the FFF’s decision to send Anelka home, and ban him for 18 international games.
Nicolas Anelka had an eventful career, to say the least. There were enough controversies surrounding his name to take up a few careers to be truthful. However, if like me you’ve exhausted all of Netflix’s football content, then this documentary is a very interesting watch.
Featured Image: IMBD
Last modified: 19th August 2020