1. Nicolas Anelka – Arsenal to Real Madrid, 1999
As a young player, Anelka cut the figure of a man who didn’t really know what he wanted from life. The focal point of Arsenal’s attack before he was out of his teens, ‘Le Sulk’ had taken barely 18 months to establish himself in north London as the prototype lightning-quick centre-forward in a system that would later help propel Thierry Henry to messianic status.
Quite what the troubled Anelka ever made of Henry’s accomplishments in the famous red and white is anyone’s guess; while the Gunners legend was registering his 30th league goal of Arsenal’s unbeaten season in 2004, his countryman Anekla was contemplating a third year in the doldrums of 16th-placed Manchester City.
Anelka reportedly declared in the summer of 1999 that he would sooner repair TVs for a living than return to Arsenal. A dream move to Real Madrid was soon secured, but it took until February for Anelka get off the mark for his new club. By the summer of 2000 – with just seven goals to his name – he was being farmed out to PSG after a bad-tempered spell.
- ONE-ON-ONE Nicolas Anelka, One-on-One: "Something serious would've happened if I'd stayed longer at Real Madrid"
2. Peter Odemwingie – West Brom to Cardiff, 2014
There was a thinly veiled warning to West Brom fans in Peter Odemwingie’s response to alleged Juventus interest in April 2011. "My intention is to continue playing in England and, if West Brom aren't relegated, I'm happy to stay," he said as the Old Lady came wooing. While a man who had registered 12 Premier League goals in his first six months in England wouldn't be expected to stick around for long in the Championship, the underwhelming conditional nature of Odemwingie’s pledge proved to be a prescient insight into the state of his Baggies attachment.
Fast-forward three years, the striker driving from Birmingham to west London in the hope of forcing through a deadline-day transfer to QPR that even Harry Redknapp knew nothing about, and a fuller picture emerges of Odemwingie’s priorities in a seemingly doomed bid to find contentment. It’s a long way from Indonesia (where he now plays, aged 35) to Turin for a striker who long ago dropped off the edge of the goalscoring charts (partly thanks to injury). The days when Odemwingie exercised public humility feel extremely distant indeed.
3. Darren Bent – Sunderland to Aston Villa, 2011
There can't have been many rosier moments in Darren Bent’s career than when he watched Asamoah Gyan bundle home a 93rd-minute equaliser against arch-rivals Newcastle in January 2011 to salvage a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light. Sunderland sat a handsome sixth back then, within striking distance of the top four and attracting numerous plaudits following a thumping 3-0 win away to champions Chelsea. Bent, for his part, had netted 32 Premier League goals in a little under 18 months. Life was good.
The following day, an £18m bid was submitted for the striker by relegation-threatened Aston Villa. Bent’s head was turned, and a month of transfer requests and recriminations between the player and both clubs followed before the former Spurs outcast was given permission to make his Midlands move. An underwhelming spell at Villa Park led to a sojourn around the Championship where, over six years later, Bent – still only 33 – resides at Derby after his second full season with the Rams.
4. Emmanuel Adebayor – Arsenal to Manchester City, 2010
Another player in the Anelka mould who never seems satisfied in any environment, Adebayor skulked out of Arsenal and into the welcoming arms of Manchester City supporters in 2010, claiming that the Emirates faithful had made his final few months in north London a living nightmare.
As if to demonstrate the extent of his misery, Adebayor pelted the length of the pitch to exorcise his demons in front of Arsenal’s travelling fans after scoring against his ex-employers in a 4-1 City win. ‘Whatever happened to Adebayor?’ will surely go down as one of the enduring head-scratchers among those who saw him at his brilliant peak.
A glamorous but largely unfruitful spell in the royal white of Real Madrid notwithstanding, Adebayor’s steady and stolid demise from lethal marksman to forgotten fringe player has been one of the most glaring collapses of recent times. That it all ended with a P45 bearing a Tottenham stamp will have gone a long way towards bringing smiles to the faces of N5 residents.
5. Scott Sinclair – Swansea to Manchester City, 2012
Sinclair can probably be forgiven for being a little uncertain about where to lay his hat during the early years of a precocious career: in 2010, he was turning out for his ninth club in just six years, so a reluctance to consider one particular place as home was always likely. When Swansea offered the stability of not only three seasons in the same shirt but regular Premier League football – at which Sinclair quickly excelled – it seemed like the rolling stone was finally settling down.
It was, however, not to be: when the Swans sought to open contract talks in 2012, Sinclair was adamant that his future lay elsewhere, going public with his desire to leave the Liberty Stadium and chance his arm on the road once again.
A paltry 13 league outings in three seasons was presumably not what Sinclair had in mind when he put pen to paper at Manchester City. "Playing alongside some of the best players in the world is exciting for me; when you see two Champions League fixtures against Real Madrid on the horizon, it brings it all home," said the journeyman, before taking his seat in between Jack Rodwell and Mario Balotelli on the City bench. A relegation season at Aston Villa later, Sinclair has finally rediscovered his enjoyment for football with a fine season at Celtic.
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