Anelka happy to stay and play with a smile
Thursday 21 July 2011
"Here to Play. Here to Stay" is the slogan Chelsea have chosen for their tour of Asia, indicating that they do not plan to pass through three countries merely to press the flesh and rake in fees for exhibition matches. It is a slogan that could equally apply to Nicolas Anelka.
"Le Sulk" is not sulking, but smiling. As a well-known Muslim footballer in a Muslim country, Anelka has a special profile in Malaysia. There might have been a time when the arrival of a rival striker, bringing with him 50 million reasons why he needed to start, would have brought out the worst in the Frenchman.
However, age brings its own perspective in football, as it does elsewhere, and at 32 Anelka is not about to leave Stamford Bridge to build up his pension plan in New York, Los Angeles or Qatar. Neither, however, is he ready to rejoice in Fernando Torres' wretched, misfiring start to his time in London.
"Of course, it is difficult when you come in for a lot of money," said the man who has been bought and sold for a cumulative total of £86m in his career. "You feel a lot of pressure. You have to play and play well and you have to score. It was difficult in the beginning for Fernando but I think he looks better this summer, even in training. It's never easy when you come in from another club. You have new tactics and new players. Everybody knows his quality; he showed that at Liverpool. But at Chelsea we don't play the same way and there's not the same group of players."
As for Anelka, he smiled that he "always had something to prove", adding that "maybe 10 years ago", the arrival of someone like Torres would have hatched out all the negativity in his character. "I am happy here. Perhaps you are seeing who I really am. When I first came to England, nobody really knew who I was or what I was about. I was always happy on the pitch, believe me."
Today he is in Damansara Damai, a few miles outside Kuala Lumpur, where Chelsea have built a training ground that will be an enduring legacy of this tour. The indoor pitches, naturally, are coloured blue. It will be on the pitches coloured green where Anelka will have to demonstrate that his gut instinct to fight it out at Stamford Bridge was the right one.
He ceased being a central striker soon after Guus Hiddink arrived in London to salvage the wreck of Luiz Felipe Scolari's regime. Some felt that, too often, Anelka was wasted on the flanks in support of Didier Drogba and, latterly, Torres. Where he might play under Andre Villas-Boas is something he might ponder at the club's retreat in the hills beyond Kuala Lumpur.
"Changing managers is football, you have to adapt," Anelka said. "We have to adapt, give a little on the pitch and see what happens. Competition brings out the best in everybody. When you play for a team like Chelsea, you have to fight for your place."
That competition for places may be about to increase after it was reported yesterday that the club have made an undisclosed bid for Anderlecht's 18-year-old striker Romelu Lukaku, who has been valued at around £18m.
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