Anelka's apology may not stop City transfer

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The Independent Online

Nicolas Anelka has apologised to Manchester City for his disparaging remarks about his club. The Frenchman's climb-down was revealed by the City chairman, John Wardle, following the club's annual general meeting at Eastlands yesterday, in which it was confirmed that the manager, Kevin Keegan, will be granted a small amount of funds for next month's transfer window.

Nicolas Anelka has apologised to Manchester City for his disparaging remarks about his club. The Frenchman's climb-down was revealed by the City chairman, John Wardle, following the club's annual general meeting at Eastlands yesterday, in which it was confirmed that the manager, Kevin Keegan, will be granted a small amount of funds for next month's transfer window.

The likelihood of Anelka leaving has increased over the past week, after his ill-advised comments in a French magazine interview in which he suggested he was doing his best to secure a move to a "big club" who could fulfil his Champions' League aspirations. Barcelona and Liverpool have both been linked with the French striker, who was booed by his own supporters during Saturday's 1-0 home defeat by Tottenham.

Wardle admits there is a possibility that Anelka could be released against the wishes of the City manager, Kevin Keegan, should any club offer a fee in excess of the £5m City still owe Paris St-Germain for his transfer three years ago. But he added that Anelka has said he is sorry for any remarks which may have offended the club.

"I am naturally disappointed with Nicolas's comments," said Wardle. "I have spoken to him, and he has apologised for anything that might have been taken from his interview French press. Extracts were taken from it that didn't put the whole thing into a good light. We are a big club, but Nicolas has told me that he agrees with that."

Whether the retraction will be enough to pacify the long-suffering City support will become clear on Saturday when Keegan's side head to the Reebok Stadium for their game against Bolton. Anelka can expect to be restored to the City line-up, given the paucity of the Blues' attacking performance last weekend.

Keegan has publicly stated that any decision to let Anelka leave would be the responsibility of Wardle and the remainder of the City board, although he has said that he wants to keep the 25-year-old striker.

Wardle confirmed that there has been no bid and no inquiry for the former Arsenal and Real Madrid forward, he did admit that a transfer is very much a possibility. "If a bid comes in for Nicolas I would speak to the board. Then I would speak to Kevin," he said. "From there it would be a joint decision. I know the manager wouldn't want to sell him - I wouldn't expect him to. But, if we had to, I would point out to Kevin the reasons why.

"But you have to remember we still owe money on Nicolas, which would have to be cleared off - so it would have to be a bid of substance above that figure."

Wardle said that any move to take Anelka on a short-term loan would be considered, adding: "I doubt we would go down that route, because we would still have to bring a player in."

With a debt level of £62m, Keegan already knew he would not have a massive transfer budget to work with next month. But the former England coach has been promised some funds to enable him to bring in a couple of new faces. Clearly, though, the days of City splashing out millions to bring in the likes of Anelka and Robbie Fowler are gone.

Wardle said: "We have gone from the First Division to the Premiership and stayed there for three years - which is the longest period of time ever. When Kevin joined us we had just been relegated, so he must have spent reasonably well because of the success he has had.

"But not every player you buy will become a star. There will be the odd bad buy - and purely because of the number of players Kevin has brought to the club there will be some who have not worked out. We will try to be creative to generate some funds. But maybe we have to start looking at clubs like Everton and Bolton to see how they have been dealing in the transfer market and do a similar type of thing."

Wardle has also put a price of £20m on Shaun Wright-Phillips, which is designed to ward off any potential buyer, and claimed that the little winger is almost as good as Wayne Rooney. City fans fear the 22-year-old could be a prime transfer target when the transfer window opens next month, even though he signed a new four-year contract at the start of the season.

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, has already admitted his admiration for the England international, while Keegan believes Wright-Phillips is the most dangerous player in the world when running at defenders. But no matter how "creative' a transfer budget is built for Keegan over the coming weeks, it will not include even the remotest possibility of Wright-Phillips leaving City.

"I have no intention of selling Shaun Wright-Phillips," said Wardle. "If someone comes in and starts being silly I would have to discuss it but we are not putting him on a shelf to sell because he is the heart and soul of this football club.

"In my eyes, I don't think he is that far off Wayne Rooney, although he is a different type of player. The fans identify with him. You have to think about things like that. It is important."

A lifelong City fan, who has financed the club's rise back into the top flight, Wardle thinks Wright-Phillips' affinity with the club will ensure he sees out the remainder of his current contract at least.

"I hope the day never comes when Shaun doesn't feel he can fulfil his ambitions here," he said. "The club is looking to go forwards not backwards."

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