AS one of the world's leading strikers, Nicolas Anelka knows all about the importance of taking chances when they come your way. His close-range header gave Chelsea victory in Porto on Wednesday night, the third time this season an Anelka goal has pinched a 1-0 win in the Champions League.
Anelka also recognises that Chelsea must take their opportunity this season to win the Premier League again having built up a five-point lead over champions Manchester United. Chelsea travel to one of Anelka's former clubs Arsenal on Sunday in the firm belief that this could, and possibly should, be their season.
Now aged 30, Anelka knows from his own experience that chances must be seized. He was 18 when he broke into the Arsenal first team, and in his debut season, 1997-98, he scored nine goals as Arsène Wenger's side won the league and FA Cup, with Anelka scoring in the final.
A move to Real Madrid followed in 1999, where he won the Champions League the following year. Since then his career has failed to live up to its early promise, and he jumped from club to club until pitching up at Stamford Bridge in January 2008.
Anelka's experience has taught him that success cannot be taken for granted, and he is determined not to miss out on the chance of winning the Premier League again.
"You have to appreciate the good times," Anelka said. "Sometimes you have only one chance in your life to win the title. I had the chance before and now I have a second chance to win it. This is a big club with big players. I hope I have the chance again.
"Of course I will be happy to win a title with Chelsea, despite what I have done with Arsenal and Real Madrid. I won it first 11 years ago and when you first play football you want to win everything, even if you have success. I've had to wait for that second title in England. I won the FA Cup with Chelsea last year but now I hope this year it will be the title. That is life. I was glad to win it with Arsenal. Now I am glad to be at Chelsea."
Anelka's game has changed vastly from being the fleet-footed striker he was at Arsenal more than a decade ago. At Chelsea he has become very much a team man, willing to play a more supportive role in partnership with Didier Drogba. Anelka admitted that he struggled with his form in the Champions League in the previous two seasons at Chelsea, playing under three different managers. His return of three goals in five games, compared to two goals in 17 games in the last two years, suggests he has at last found his rhythm.
He said: "I do feel I am a more mature person as well. At the time I was with Arsenal, I was 18, 19, 20 years old. Now I'm 30 so I am now one of the senior players, not the young boy I was then. I feel better in the team now, more comfortable. I've got used to the system and I've also got used to the club.
"When you're older you know better what you have to do on the pitch. I've changed my game a little bit. I used to be a real striker, just staying up front. Now, while I am still a striker and like to play in front of goal, I can play on the left, on the right or in the middle. I've changed my game and I've changed my mentality.
"Last season it was all new for me," Anelka added, "and now I'm jolly glad to be here and happy to play football and enjoy the football I am playing. So I feel I can score more goals for [Carlo] Ancelotti."Reuse content