Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we look at journeyman striker, Nicolas Anelka.
The Euro 2000 winner turned out for 12 different clubs during his illustrious yet controversial career. He only made a return to one club, and that was Paris Saint-Germain.
Returning Players – Nicolas Anelka
First Spell at Paris Saint-Germain
Having been a member of the famous Clairefontaine academy, Nicolas Anelka joined the capital club Paris Saint-Germain aged 16.
Despite breaking into the first team at such a young age, he managed just 220 minutes from ten games for Les Parisiens. But, after scoring his solitary goal in a 4-0 win over Lenz, PSG fans and pundits alike soon took notice of the forward.
However, the controversies had already begun, with the 17-year-old demanding more from the hierarchy at the club. As a result, the youngster was prized away in what would be the first of many transfers across his career.
Teams That Nicolas Anelka Played for in Between
Arsenal, and their new manager Arsene Wenger, took a gamble and spent £500,000 on the 17-year-old French forward. It was a gamble that paid off and soon, Nicolas Anelka was the hottest teenage talent in the world.
Having arrived in February, Anelka turned out four times as Arsenal finished the season in third place. However, after an ankle injury to Ian Wright in the following campaign, the youngster took his opportunity. The Frenchman netted his first Gunners goal in a 3-2 win over Manchester United and scored the second goal as Arsenal beat Newcastle United in the FA Cup final to secure a memorable double.
Having ended the season with nine goals from 40 appearances, alongside a domestic double, Anelka set about making a bigger impact. The following season, the striker netted 17 Premier League goals and was voted the PFA Young Player of the Year. However, the Gunners failed to defend their titles and, despite being the club’s top scorer, fans started to turn on the youngster.
As a result, the Frenchman sought a move away from North London and Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid immediately snapped him up.
Los Blancos shelled out £22.3 million for Anelka but it took him time to get settled to life in the Spanish capital. The forward had to wait five months before grabbing his first goal as he netted three times in two FIFA Club World Championship matches.
In February, he netted his first La Liga goal in a 3-0 win over Barcelona. However, less than a month later, he was suspended by club president Lorenzo Sanz for refusing to train after a disagreement with manager Vicente del Bosque.
Once he returned to the team, Anelka netted in both legs of the Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich. He started in the final, which was held in Paris, as Los Blancos secured a 3-0 victory over Valencia.
Having scored 28 goals in 90 appearances while at Arsenal, Anelka managed just seven during his one season in Madrid as he was, once again, on the move.
Return to Paris Saint-Germain
Anelka returned to Paris after the French club signed the forward for £22 million in a move funded by cable television company Canal Plus, who also owned the club, while the club’s sponsor Nike would cover much of his £30,000 per week wage.
Despite finish second in Ligue 1 in the season before Anelka”s arrival, it would be a disappointing season in the capital. PSG would finish ninth, despite leading the league at one point, while replacing manager Philippe Bergeroo with Luis Fernández.
But, once again, Anelka developed problems with the management which would ultimately leave to his departure. In just 18 months back in Paris, Anelka scored 18 goals from 56 games and although the club won the UEFA Intertoto Cup, it was a disastrous return home.
Teams Nicolas Anelka Played for After Leaving Paris Saint-Germain
Having been the club’s top scorer in two of the three seasons in Manchester, Anelka then joined Fenerbahçe and won the Süper Lig.
A return to England followed after signing for Bolton Wanderers. Anelka scored 23 goals from 61 appearances in just 18-months before signing for Chelsea in the January transfer window.
Anelka spent four years at Stamford Bridge, winning one Premier League title, two FA Cups and one Community Shield. He also came runner up in the League Cup and Champions League after defeat against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United respectively.
He scored 59 times for Chelsea from 184 appearances and won the Premier League Golden Boot before joining Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua. Despite being handed a £12 million per year contract, Anelka only managed four goals in 27 appearances before joining Juventus on loan, and although he won Serie A while in Italy, he only turned out three times and failed to score.
Another return to England followed as he scored twice from 12 Premier League appearances for West Bromwich Albion before joining Mumbai City in the Indian Super League, where he netted twice from 13 appearances.
While he has picked up several trophies throughout his career, Anelka never settled at one club and stirred controversy everywhere he went. His career was summed up by a return to Paris – an almost perfect move for a talented youngster but too many distractions and problems ultimately cost him his position.