Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti voiced his support for the Blues' controversial striker Nicolas Anelka, in the wake of the player's 18-match ban from the French Football Federation.
The ex-Arsenal forward was handed the punishment after a reported bust-up with former national side manager Raymond Domenech at this summer’s World Cup finals.
The incident culminated in Anelka being sent home from the squad, leading to a training ground revolt with senior players refusing to train in a show of solidarity for the star.
This was confounded by the French national side’s dismal showing in the finals, ending with elimination at the group stages.
However, Ancelotti feels the character portrayed in the media is at odds with the player he knows and works with.
“He doesn’t like the publicity but he loves his job, he loves football and he has fantastic skill. He has a good character and presence which he does not show the outside,” he said.
“I don’t know what happened there but Anelka is an honest man and he didn’t deserve the decision.”
Anelka, who has scored 14 goals in 69 games for France, has always entertained a terse relationship with the media and is frequently depicted as a dour and moody presence.
Commonly referred to as 'Le Sulk', he reacted to the news of his charge in a heated interview with France-Soir.
"The so-called punishment has no relevance whatsoever because, for me, the French national team was an issue which ended on June 19 when I was kicked out of the training centre at Knysna," he said.
"This is just to entertain the public, to turn the page because Laurent Blanc needs to be able to work in peace.
"These people are clowns. I am dying with laughter."
Despite these comments the Chelsea manager insists that the incident at the World Cup was out of character for a player he has never had a run in with and continued to commend his attitude to training and outlined his good relationship with him.
“He is the one player who has never missed a single training session since I have been here, he trains always, he is not injured and if he has a problem he tries to play with this.
“I was surprised at his behaviour at the World Cup. If there is one player who would speak up to me it would never be him, he would be the last.”
Anelka’s lengthy break from international football will certainly benefit his parent club as the 31-year-old looks to extend his career at the top level.
Being able to recover and train with his team-mates will be a boost, avoiding the physical constraints of travelling and playing during international qualifying campaigns throughout the season, a point Ancelotti was keen to address.
“It is good news for me because he can stay here to train during the international break; he can maintain a good condition.
“But for him it is not good news because every player wants to play in the national team.
“Anelka has reacted very well. He has taken it with good spirit.”
As Chelsea look to defend their Premier League crown they will need players of the enigmatic No 39’s quality as focused and driven as before.
With the support of his club and manager, don’t bet against the Frenchman notching up even more goals and assists for last season's double winners, in spite of his recent troubles.
By Paul Wentworth