Big Sam and the 'big sulk': what will Anelka make of life at Bolton?

Sam Allardyce has built his managerial reputation on rescuing players' careers but faces a challenge with the wayward French striker, writes Phil Shaw

From sulky to greedy via brilliant and petulant, Nicolas Anelka has been called many things during a decade on football's front line. Sam Allardyce welcomed Bolton Wanderers' £8m record signing yesterday by claiming he was "born to score goals", although it was another of the many managers who believed they could be the one to exploit the Frenchman's undoubted ability who best summed up the enigma that is Anelka.

When he was in charge of Manchester City, Kevin Keegan remarked that the £13m he paid Paris St- Germain in 2002 for his services meant City had acquired "a Rolls-Royce of a striker". Anelka's career path, strewn with controversy and rancour as well as a handsome haul of goals and some £71m in transfer fees, ensured that more than one cynic wondered whether the former England manager was suggesting his new signing was expensive and required a high level of maintenance.

Allardyce has a proven record of rescuing waning careers and of rehabilitating players who have not fulfilled their potential, as demonstrated by the performances of Jay-Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo in the first category and Kevin Davies in the second. By buying Anelka from the Turkish side Fenerbahce he would appear, at a stroke, to have changed the complexion of Bolton's much-criticised playing style. A team that essentially unleashed long balls for Davies to hold up and lay off to supporting midfielders are now armed with a sprint-and-shoot finisher.

Yet it has never simply been a question of talent where Anelka is concerned. If it were, he might well have stayed at Arsenal, broken Ian Wright's scoring record and been next in line for a testimonial after the creator of many of his goals at Highbury, Dennis Bergkamp.

The 27-year-old from Versailles is a restless spirit, seldom satisfied with his lot, frequently sensing that the grass may be greener elsewhere and often being poorly advised by his older brothers, who have acted as his agents.

No such complications were on the horizon when Arsène Wenger lured him, at 17, from Paris St-Germain to Arsenal in the spring of 1997. His prodigious pace soon became a weapon in the Gunners' artillery. If played in behind the defence, Anelka was virtually uncatchable and he had the confidence to surprise goalkeepers and defenders by taking his shots early.

Two well-taken goals for France against England at Wembley early in 1999 proved a turning point for him. Although he had recently signed a four-year contract at Arsenal - as he has at the Reebok Stadium - he began agitating for a transfer. He said that he felt unappreciated but later maintained he accepted a £22m move to Real Madrid because it was "always my dream" to play for them since he was "a little boy in the streets of Paris".

Anelka's version of the souring of his dream hinged on a change of coach, from John Toshack to Vicente del Bosque. After scoring only four times for Real in 29 games, which included the European Cup final victory over Valencia in Paris in 2000, he returned to Paris St-Germain. The comeback lasted a season, Anelka later admitting his relationship with the coach, Luis Fernandez, was "not as amiable as it should have been."

A year's loan at Liverpool, where he replaced Robbie Fowler, did not lead to an offer from his compatriot Gérard Houllier. Keegan paid £13m to take him to City, a move that could be deemed a success since it produced 46 goals in 103 appearances. While he was in Manchester his brother Claude briefly owned, and unsuccessfully managed, Raith Rovers in Scotland.

However, in January last year Anelka decamped to Fenerbahce, where he was a qualified success, keeping up his scoring feats but being unable to help them regain the title. When he went to Istanbul he had not been picked for France in three years, having added Jacques Santini to the list of managers with whom he fell out.

Raymond Domenech recalled him last autumn but, perhaps tellingly, overlooked him for this summer's World Cup even after Djibril Cissé was injured on the eve of the finals.

When he left Arsenal, saying the English could "go to hell", Wenger called him "not bad, just young". Yesterday, on his latest return, Anelka observed pointedly: "People who say I'm a bad boy don't know me". Allardyce is already referring to him chummily as "Nic", although Anelka actually became Abdul-Salam Bilal on converting to Islam four years ago.

At Bolton they will not mind which name he uses, or what religion he pursues, provided he justifies his billing. Anelka, enthused Allardyce, had "an awesome track record in the Premiership", making it the "smallest gamble" he had taken. But a gamble, none the less, given the enigma's other track record.

The £71m striker: Nicolas Anelka's chequered career

Paris St-Germain (1994-97) Trainee Games 10 Goals 1

Arsenal (1997-99) £500,000 Games 90 Goals 28

Real Madrid (1999-00) £22m Games 24 Goals 4

Paris St-Germain (2000-02) £20.29m Games 50 Goals 15

Liverpool (2001-02) Loan Games 22 Goals 5

Manchester City (2002-05) £13m Games 103 Goals 46

Fenerbahçe (2005-2006) £7m Games 45 Goals 14

Bolton (2006- ) £8m

Total: £70.79m Games 344 Goals 113

In total, Anelka is the second most expensive player in football history. Only Juan Sebastian Veron tops him:

Boca Juniors to Sampdoria (1996) £3m

Sampdoria to Parma (1998) £13m

Parma to Lazio (1999) £18.1m

Lazio to Man Utd (2001) £28.1m

Man Utd to Chelsea (2003) £15m

Chelsea to Internazionale (2004) Undisc.

Total: £77.2m

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game