Home is where the heart is for Southern star: Anderton back in love with the beautiful game

Darren Anderton is in fine fettle now he has returned to the South Coast with Bournemouth. Just don't ask him about that 'sicknote' nickname. By Jason Burt
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If Bournemouth had not offered Darren Anderton a one-year contract last summer, he would have given up on football. "It almost came down to that," Anderton says. "And I'd have gone to live in Spain or somewhere. It really got me down that much last season."

Aged 34, and just four years after he probably should have been taken to the World Cup in Japan and South Korea, an omission that still clearly hurts, the former England international is happy with life on the South Coast and in League One.

That may appear some descent but it is one he accepts because "this is where I'm from". Indeed, it was Anderton, mulling over what to do in a summer spent in the United States, who approached Bournemouth, where he has had a home for 10 years and where his mother was born, following his release by Wolverhampton Wanderers.

"It was a little bit nerve-racking," Anderton, who turned down offers from Championship clubs including Colchester United, admits. "But I know people in the area and got to meet a few of the players before I joined. They were all keen for me to come, so I just thought, 'Why not'?"

Even the impending departure of the manager, Sean O'Driscoll, did not faze him. "The day I started I knew it was going to be his last game," Anderton says. "It was probably more of an upheaval for the players already here." Did he fancy the job? "I just said, 'Don't go there'," Anderton laughs when the subject is raised. "It doesn't appeal to me but just from being an experienced player and helping youngsters I can get something out of that." What does appeal is, with the new manager Kevin Bond in place, "the big challenge of being the person to take the club to the next level".

So far that has not worked. Bournemouth, who are now in the relegation zone in 21st place, have slipped worryingly down the table, yet Anderton is suffering none of the frustrations he felt last year at Wolves. "I was not enjoying it. It was so frustrating as there were really good players there but for some reason it never got going," he says.

Maybe Anderton has also adjusted to the "drop in quality of football" which he says is greater from the Premiership to the Championship than from there down to League One.

"The Premiership is another world," he says. "It's full of super athletes. It's almost as if that's more important than being a footballer. Some of them are great athletes who are then taught how to pass the ball." It's a theme he is keen to develop and, maybe so, because his own physical robustness has so often been questioned.

It is inevitable, perhaps, that the issue of that nickname - "Sicknote" - is discussed. "That's football," Anderton says. "It wasn't nice." He picked up the nickname after missing a match a few years ago for Portsmouth because of a migraine. "And then someone else brought it up three or four years later and it stuck," he says.

"Obviously, I know I had a few injuries but no more than a lot of players. It's just that I was unfortunate to get them in periods of my career which were high-profile, such as just before Euro '96 and the World Cup. It was always then a question of whether or not I was going to be fit and so a big deal was made of it. It really was just those two years."

Indeed, the statistics appear to bear out his claim - he averaged more than 30 appearances a season at Tottenham Hotspur - although there have been four hernia operations, three long-term absences with an Achilles tendon problem and various hamstring and groin injuries.

Nevertheless, he spent 12 years at Spurs, turning down Manchester United, who came calling with a £7m offer in 1995, to stay. "I suppose you look back now and see all the trophies they went on to win," Anderton says. "But when that [the transfer] came up, I knew I had a hernia and needed an operation. It was the year before Euro '96 and we'd had a great year at Tottenham while United had lost Mark Hughes, Andrei Kanchelskis [whom he was earmarked to replace] and Paul Ince. When I was weighing it up, I thought it would be Spurs' time. We had loads of exciting players. Unfortunately, Jürgen [Klinsmann] left, Nicky Barmby was homesick and wanted to go and it ended in frustration. My regret wasn't not joining United. My regret was that Tottenham didn't go on and do as they should have done. Every time it looked like we were going to do well it just didn't happen. First with Gerry Francis, then George Graham. He did well but the new board wanted a Tottenham man so they sacked him when we were in an FA Cup semi-final. Weird."

Anderton, a thoughtful, polite character, has similar feelings about England. A clever ball-player, he loved playing for his country and, as he speaks, points at the shirt he wore in the 1998 World Cup match against Colombia - when he scored - which hangs in the large games room at his Bournemouth home. "In the summer, when I was watching the World Cup, I thought, 'Was that really eight years ago'?" Anderton recalls.

He also shared in the nation's frustration at what he saw. "My friends were all asking, 'What's going on'?" he says. "To me, we were just all about going long, pace and power, and it just did not work. They gave the ball away and were too direct. Without a doubt. Glenn [Hoddle, his England manager in 1998] was tactically very good - OK, some questioned his man-management - while with Terry [Venables, his manager in Euro '96] we were always watching, talking about games. Look at those matches in '96 against Holland [won 4-1], Germany [lost on penalties in the semi-final]. We had more of the ball than them and that's something I've never really seen since, especially under Sven.

"We never had more possession. It doesn't matter how good you are, if you haven't got the ball, you get tired. Frank Lampard at Chelsea, an attacking player, is playing for a team that has 65-70 per cent possession at times, so he has the ball and is able to do what he's good at. If you end up chasing it, you end up shattered and give it away more. It's a vicious circle."

Anderton believes England should simply build the team around Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard. "For me, it's about those two," he says. "Stevie has carried Liverpool for three years and, even though Rooney, is so young he's special. But we do have other good players. John Terry is world-class, Gary Neville is underrated."

The latter was with him in Euro '96 and, unsurprisingly, Anderton describes as a "master-stroke" the decision to bring Venables back as Steve McClaren's assistant - although he is not so sure about the omission of David Beckham.

"Dropping the Golden Boy," he says, "and then, when you need results to justify doing it, to not get them makes it uncomfortable. It was a bit like Gazza really. He plays every game and then he's not in the squad. It's from one extreme to another."

Anderton also played every game when available for England. Indeed, 28 of his 30 caps were earned as a starter, including his debut. "And maybe there were some players with 60 caps who only started 10 games," he says. "I knew that when I played I would start and that's unusual. I think it was because international football suited me. I could go past people, but I was always a good passer of the ball. It meant that when fit I was one of the first names on the team-sheet and that's a good feeling. It also meant I had no need to leave Spurs to fulfil those ambitions."

If there are no regrets with club, there are with country. Even now he shakes his head at not winning Euro 96 - "that was the time," he says - while missing out in 2002 was "crazy". "I think I should have gone," Anderton says. Instead Eriksson took Trevor Sinclair. "In one sense I've been unfortunate," he admits, reflecting on the missed chances and injuries. But that is for the past. For now it is Bournemouth who have rekindled his love of the game.

"If they said, 'What about another year'?" says Anderton, "then I would say, 'Yes'. Bournemouth have been great for me, the players respectful and that's good. Especially after that nickname."

Clubs, country and injury time: The essential Darren Anderton

Born 3 March 1972, Southampton.

1990 Joined Portsmouth (62 league games, 7 goals).

1992 Joined Tottenham for £1.75m (305 League games, 37 goals).

1994 Made England debut, against Finland. Went on to play 30 games, scoring seven goals.

1995-96 Missed most of the season through injury, but played a significant part in England's advance to the Euro 96 semi-finals.

November 2001 Played last game for England. His last five caps were awarded by five managers: Czech Republic (Nov 1998) by Glenn Hoddle; France (Feb 1999) by Howard Wilkinson; France (Sept 2000) by Kevin Keegan; Italy (Nov 2000) by Peter Taylor; Sweden (Nov 2001) by Sven Goran Eriksson.

2004 Joined Birmingham on a free transfer (20 League games, three goals)

2005 Joined Wolverhampton (24 league games, one goal)

2006 Joined Bournemouth on a monthly contract (eight League games to date, one goal).