The turbulent career of Nicolas Anelka took another bizarre series of twists and turns yesterday. First the striker put his international career in jeopardy when he refused to play for France after a late call-up for Wednesday's friendly against Yugoslavia.
Then it emerged that Fifa, the game's world governing body, would almost certainly ban Anelka from playing in Manchester City's Premiership match at Middlesbrough on Saturday as the French authorities invoked a rule that threatens to add more fuel to the club-versus-country debate.
The furore started when Anelka said he would not be answering Jacques Santini's call-up to replace the Lyon striker Sydney Govou, who withdrew with a thigh strain on Sunday. "My call-up seems forced, not really wanted, as if I'm just a stop-gap," said Anelka, who has 28 caps and has scored six goals but who has not played since a World Cup warm-up against Russia. in April. "I need to feel really wanted in order to be able to give my best... and I feel the staff don't have confidence in me. I saw the coach last week and he did not give me arguments which convinced me."
Santini was at first unaware of Anelka's absence from the training camp just outside of Paris, but on learning of it quickly contacted the French Football Federation. "The sanction will be implemented. It's not me, it's the federation's rules," Santini said.
The FFF announced that it had begun "proceedings to suspend Nicolas Anelka from playing for Manchester City". This will likely mean a one-match ban as Fifa regulations state that a player refusing to play for his country cannot be fielded by his club during the period for which he has been released. Article 40 goes on to say: "This restriction on playing for the club shall, moreover, be prolonged by five days in the event that the player, for whatsoever reason, did not wish to or was unable to comply with the summons."
Anelka also falls foul of the FFF's own regulations which state that a player refusing a call up should be banned for two matches. The French would need the co-operation of the English FA to enforce this but the FFF say it will attempt to ban him for one game immediately. "The FFF considers that Nicolas Anelka is suspended right now for the first official meeting of his club following November 18, 2002," a statement said
Anelka, perhaps realising what the implications could be, pleaded with Santini to accept his decision. "All this has been maturely reflected on and I believe this is understandable. I hope that the coach will respect my choice as I respected his in the past, and, of course, I hope to play for Les Bleus again.
"I was asked if this was the reaction of a spoilt child. It is not. A spoilt child is someone who has always had what he wanted, but I left home at 13, I left my parents and all that I had. I worked to get what I have and I believe I deserve it."
There was some sympathy in the French camp for Anelka. Emmanuel Petit, the Chelsea midfielder who has played with Anelka for both Arsenal and France, said it would be wrong to "demonise" him. "Coaches have chosen to snub Anelka, and he respected these decisions, now this is our turn to respect Anelka's choices. Nicolas knows the consequences of such a decision... I don't think it will cause him to lose any sleep."
Fifa said last night it would wait to receive an official letter from the FFF before making a decision. Manchester City declined to comment, but will doubtless feel aggrieved that what had been a productive start to Anelka's Maine Road career – seven League goals already this season – will have to be put on hold after his £13m transfer from Paris St-Germain in the summer.
They will also feel aggrieved that others who have refused to play for their country in the past – Duncan Ferguson most famously – have had no such ban.
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