Anelka's rollercoaster career suffers big dip

PARIS - Nicolas Anelka, once promised a fantastic international career, largely wasted his unique talent because of his hot temper and will be remembered by the France fans for all the wrong reasons.

Not unlike the other enfant terrible of French football, Eric Cantona, Anelka rarely shone while wearing a France shirt - which he will probably never pull on again after being handed an 18-match ban by the French Football Federation (FFF) on Tuesday.

The striker was sanctioned for insulting then coach Raymond Domenech at the World Cup in South Africa. He was then banished from the squad, joining Diego Maradona and Ireland's Roy Keane on a list of players sent home from the biggest stage of all.

Anelka, one of five players summoned by the FFF, did not even turn up for Tuesday's disciplinary hearing. His absence seemed to indicate he was under no illusions about his France future.

Once hailed as France's equivalent of Brazil great Ronaldo, Anelka had come to South Africa to play his first World Cup, at 31.

Many predicted the gifted but erratic Chelsea striker would show off his rare skills on the pitches of South Africa.

Instead he left in disgrace, kicked out of the tournament for having insulted Domenech after the France coach criticised his attitude on the pitch and took him off at halftime during a 2-0 defeat by Mexico in Polokwane.


Anelka, who shone only on occasions during a turbulent career spanning over a decade, burst into the limelight as a 19-year-old with two stunning goals in a 2-0 win over England at Wembley in February 1999.

"We have found our Ronaldo," France captain Didier Deschamps said that night.

Anelka's ride, however, was never as smooth as that of the two other great French strikers of his generation, David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry.

Sometimes brilliant at club level, notably during his spell at Arsenal and lately with Chelsea, the much-travelled Anelka never stayed long enough at a side to really make his mark, unlike Trezeguet at Juventus or Henry at Arsenal.

His sometimes rude manners, which he could never quite polish since growing up in the Paris suburb of Trappes, meant he often fell out with his coaches or presidents and had to pack his bags.

Never really a team player, he was often disappointing on the pitch as well, despite an ability that could have made him a truly great footballer.

He also built a reputation for lacking composure when it mattered, notably missing a penalty in Chelsea's shootout defeat by Manchester United in the 2008 Champions League final.


Both elegant and powerful, the tall, shaven-headed player has always been exciting to watch, if not always that efficient.

He did at least play a key role in helping Chelsea claim a domestic league and cup double last season.

What Anelka never managed to do is make an impact with the France team, scoring a paltry 14 goals from 69 appearances and sometimes giving the impression he did not really care.

That was the case in 2003, when he refused a call-up by then coach Jacques Santini, and of course again in South Africa, where he looked lost on the pitch, prompting many observers to say Henry should have played instead.

By insulting Domenech, Anelka emulated Cantona, who had called national team coach Henri Michel a "scumbag" in 1988 and did not play for France for months as a result.

Patrice Evra, who captained France at the World Cup and was banned for five matches on Tuesday for his role in the revolt, had tried his best to defend Anelka in South Africa.

"It's hurting him to have to leave us because he loves that France team," Evra said the day Anelka was sent home.

"Those who don't know him say he is a bad boy and everything but I know him well and he's not like that at all. He's a very gentle person."

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