Chelsea Player Focus – Nicolas Anelka

Having Nicolas Anelka in your forward line is a luxury that almost every club in Europe would relish. The Frenchman burst on to the scene as a raw but rapid with a keen eye for goal, yet he is capable when the ball is in the air or with his back to goal. The latter qualities have come through experience, where Anelka has learned to be more appreciative of his team-mates. Chelsea’s no. 39 was heavily involved in the destruction of West Bromwich Albion on Saturday as the Blues started the new season in a similarly free-scoring approach to the end of the previous campaign.

As Chelsea embark on another season where they will challenge for silverware on four fronts, the size and quality of their squad could make all the difference. In Anelka, manager Carlo Ancelotti possess the joker in the pack that could prove pivotal to any success that may come the Stamford Bridge outfits way. The former Milan head coach lead his troops to the Premier League title last term with all the plaudits going to Florent Malouda, Frank Lampard and top scorer Didier Drogba, before they were returned in kind to the Italian tactician. Yet Anelka should be overlooked at your peril. He netted priceless goals against Porto in Champions League group stage clashes, as well as winning strikes against Portsmouth and former club Bolton that maintained their title charge.

Anelka toiled during his first season at Chelsea but found goals hard to come by, then manager Avram Grant opted to utilise the Frenchman as a winger, with the formidable presence of Didier Drogba leading the line in attack. But with Drogba missing the start of the campaign through injury, Anelka flourished in his first full season at Stamford Bridge, resulting in him pipping Cristiano Ronaldo to the 2008/09 Golden Boot. With Anelka, controversy often overshadows his undoubted ability. The latest for ‘Le Sulk’ has all but ended his international future, after he was banned for the next 18 games by the French Football Federation for his conduct at the World Cup. Typically, Anelka has discarded any responsibility for the incident, claiming the decision to suspend him left him “dying with laughter”.

The much-travelled forward turns 32 this March and many had hoped that his disruptive days were behind him. Anelka is one of a number of elder statesmen in the Chelsea dressing room that young players seek advice from- particularly French teenager Gael Kakuta- who like Anelka was subject to a high-profile transfer at just 17 years old. In the wake of his World Cup antics, Chelsea fans may be alarmed that this is Anelka’s fourth season at the same club, a feat he has failed to achieve in his career, discounting a pair of two-year stints at his first club Paris Saint Germain.

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