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

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
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

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'