Arsenal History: Double-winning Nicolas Anelka who Arsene Wenger described as “his biggest regret”

Nicolas Anelka

In 1997 Arsene Wenger worked his transfer magic with Paris Saint-Germain bringing Nicolas Anelka to Highbury to transform him into a world class player, who would go onto play professional football for nearly the next 20 years.

According to the Daily Mirror three years ago at a charity event Wenger confessed “My biggest regret and shame is that Anelka left. He could have been special, instead he played for 13 clubs.”

By the time his chopping and changing playing days were over the Frenchman heralded two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two Community shields after spending time at Arsenal and London rivals Chelsea. On the International front he secured two Euros (one at junior and senior level) and Confederations Cup. Whilst jet setting across Europe at club level he clinched at Juventus a single Serie A, one Super Lig (top-flight of Turkish Football) title at Fenerbahçe. However, his greatest club hallmark came at Real Madrid where he claimed his one and only Champions League medal. This wasn’t the only European honour to his name he also collected the UEFA Intertoto Cup at PSG.

Within a year in North London the half a million-pound signing had only assisted The Gunners to the 1998 double after the Premier League and FA Cup were grabbed. In the Cup Anelka stood up and took responsibility tucking away the second in a 2-0 victory over Newcastle United at Wembley.

Within a few months Anelka returned to the National stadium with a bang to pick up his final piece of silverware at Arsenal following a 3-0 victory versus Manchester United in the Community Shield in which he scored the final goal in.

At the end of the 1998/99 season Anelka departed The Gunners after 90 matches with 28 strikes, with his final appearance being a narrow 1-0 overturning of Aston Villa on the last day of Premier League campaign. Earlier on in the year he was voted for February’s Premier League Player of the Month.  He would leave on a high from Arsenal being voted as the PFA Young Player of the Year in 1999 and included in the PFA team of the year.

When speaking to Sky Sports in 2008 about his Highbury departure he declared that his wish to leave carried a lot of emotional weight “I am not saying I was ashamed, but I felt something and had no wish to tell him (Wenger) face to face that I wanted to go. It’s as if it was a betrayal. I didn’t want to tell him because he represented someone extraordinary in my life.”

A year later after transferring to Spanish giants Real Madrid Anelka the nearly £30 million pound attacker sealed the holy grail of club football-The Champions League. Despite not scoring The Vikings destructed homeland enemy Valencia 3-0 after 90 minutes. In the lead-up to the final Anelka netted in both semis against Bayern Munich ensuring a 3-2 victory overall. At last, Anelka was able to wrap his hands around some European silverware after failing to make the finals of the Club World Cup at the start of the year. On the other hand, it proved to be a productive tournament for Anelka on an individual level, where he scored his first ever goal for Real Madrid in a 3-1 group stage victory against Saudi Arabia team Al-NASSR. Not long afterwards in the competition he rounded up two versus Corinthians struggling to claim a hat-trick after failing to capitalise on a penalty in the final ten minutes of the game. He also rose to the occasion at the Bernabeu in late February of 2000 scoring in a 3-0 walk in the park over Barca in El Clasico.

The Summer of 2000 witnessed Anelka fly home to his original team in France PSG. Inside a year the 2001 Intertoto Cup was kissed once Italian side Brescia were taken down over two legs, the first finished 0-0 and the second 90 minutes came to a 1-1 draw however it was still enough for PSG to hold the cup on away goals.

After a clashing head with manager Luiz Fernandez the striker flew back to England on loan to Liverpool where he found the target in important matches in the latter part of the 2001/02 season, helping The Reds try and claw back a late Premier League title win. This proved unsuccessful.

PSG finally said goodbye to him and in May 2002 he remained in England signing for Manchester City, he would solider onto become their greatest talisman for the next two years. He slotted in 14 in his first campaign and 25 in his second.

In 2005 Anelka claimed his first trophy in four years after playing a key role in making sure Fenerbahçe were crowned champions of the Turkish Super Lig after 34 games and having moved to them in January that year.

Following a disastrous couple of years at Bolton Wanders back in England for a third time, Anelka was scooped up by Chelsea in early 2008 where he settled quickly. Within a matter game he found his first goal at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup fourth round when Wigan was tackled 2-1.  At the end of the 2007/08 season Anelka lost out on a second Champions League winner’s medal after Chelsea were beaten 6-5 on penalties by Manchester United after 120 minutes worth a 1-1 draw. This was Anelka’s second cup final heartbreak that year after the League Cup was taken away by Tottenham.

Fast forward a season and Anelka shone true light on his talent being awarded the 2008/09 Premier League Golden Boot after finding the back of the net 19 times. On top of this the Blues tasted FA Cup victory once Everton had been beaten 2-1.

In August the Community shield was in Anelka’s firm grip after Manchester United were scarred 4-1 on penalties after a 2-2 draw.

More success would soon follow him, during the 2009/10 double winning season he threw the FA Cup up in the air after Portsmouth had been marginally dismantled 1-0, as well as the 2010 Premier League title.

After four years at the Bridge Anelka left for Shanghai Shenhua in 2012, during his only season at the Chinese Super League side he was loaned out to Juventus. Over in Italy he appeared a few times to help Juve clinch the 2012/13 Serie A title on 87 points and ten over nearest compatriots Napoli in second.

The Frenchman couldn’t deny England anymore and came back in 2013 to play for West Brom after being let go by Shanghai Shenhua, he didn’t last for long. In September 2014 he joined Indian side Mumbai City where the team failed to make the playoffs that season.

In July of 2015 Anelka performed a U-turn returning to Mumbai after believing he had transferred to Algerian team NA Hussein Dey in January, but his manoeuvre was denied by the Algerian Football Federation. They insisted that they only accepted footballers who were below the age of 27 and had experience of international football. Even though Anelka had bags of international experience with France in a 12-year career from 1998-2010, appearing in almost 70 matches and achieving two Euro Championship wins at u-18 (1997) and senior level in 2000, as well as the Confederations Cup that year. It was not enough! Anelka was now player-manager of Mumbai City instead where he would keep the position till 2018 before travelling to France to help out Lille at youth level for the next two years.

In early February 2021 Anelka helped out Hyeres as a sporting director who were in the fourth division of French Football however within only three months Anelka left on his own accord during the Global Covid Pandemic.

Currently Anelka is currently president of Umraniyespor who play in the second tier of Turkish Football who are currently 11th in TFF First League. This is his first position since leaving Hyeres nearly three years previously where not a single minute of football was held due to Covid.

Anelka might’ve only spent just over two years at Arsenal, but he is still greatly appreciated by many Gooners to this day, and to back this up he was voted as the 29th best player to wear the red and white shirt.

Liam Harding

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1 Comment

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  1. Absolutely wonderful. No Invincible were a bigger talent. But he was at the same time that kind of guy who could make it difficult for himself. Sad.

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