John Giles: Journeyman Anelka should walk away from football
I don’t understand Nicolas Anelka.
He’s a man with a God-given talent, who, for reasons only he understands, has frittered away his ability in a fog of petulance, privilege and self-righteousness.
Before someone took a picture of him after scoring against West Ham during Christmas week, I didn’t know what a ‘quenelle’ was and, from the explanations I’ve seen since, ignorance was certainly bliss.
But Anelka chose to make a statement by making this sign and gave huge publicity to a gesture which is offensive to many. I don’t for a second believe he wasn’t aware of the significance.
As a result, West Brom have lost a shirt sponsor and the club’s name is being dragged through a nasty publicity storm, which, it must be said, hasn’t been handled very well.
I know that most football fans will accept a great deal of grief from a lad who can produce goals on a regular basis.
And here I’m thinking of someone like Luis Suarez, who put Anfield through the mill several times in the last few years before settling down this season to something more like normality.
But Anelka’s behaviour immediately lifted him out of a football environment into a political arena which he is clearly ill-equipped for and, by the looks of things, he’ll move along soon from the Hawthorns, yet another club willing to give him a chance to play football.
West Brom chose to play Anelka despite the scandal over the ‘quenelle’ gesture and they will pay a financial price for that, but, judging by the fact that they will not provide legal counsel for him now, it seems that they have decided to cut him loose.
I’m sure Pepe Mel could have done without these circumstances as he begins his management career in the Premier League. He lost Shane Long, who wanted to leave for some time, and now he will have to do without another striker.
In that context, this is a story about wasted talent. It’s not about politics or religion or racism or any of the other things Anelka has tinkered with while clubs were paying him big chunks of cash to score goals.
He is a professional footballer with an obligation to his club to work hard and do the best he can to help West Brom win football games.
He can’t do that if he’s suspended or, as seems likely now, paid off and scouring the January window for another club foolish enough to indulge him.
That’s what he has become. One of those lads who do their best business in January or a few hours before the deadline when nobody else is available and a desperate manager takes a punt.
And to think, he once kept Thierry Henry on the left-wing for Arsenal and was so good I remember saying to Liam Brady that if I had a choice, I would take Anelka straight away.
By signing him and then shipping him onto to Real Madrid for more than £20m, Arsene Wenger established his name as a smooth operator in what was then a very promising French transfer market.
But I have a clear memory before Madrid became an option of saying to Liam that I didn’t rate Henry at all, but that it didn’t really matter because Arsenal had Anelka.
Of course, Henry moved into the centre and the rest is history, but Anelka was just as good. The problem was that he seemed to be getting some very bad advice and, if memory serves me, his brothers were central players in his desire to leave Highbury.
He has been given chance after chance and at big clubs all the way until Shanghai Shenhua in China seemed like a good option for him.
For most senior pros, a move to China should be the beginning of the end, perhaps one last big payday, but even then, Anelka managed to find another big name club when Juventus took him on loan for a brief spell before he wound up at West Brom.
There is always a reason why a player with so much talent ends up with a CV as long as a shopping list and, as I said above, in Anelka’s case, it has nothing to do with politics or religion.
It is primarily about attitude and it doesn’t take a keen student of the human condition to identify arrogance in his make-up. He seems to sulk as a default position.
He is a lucky, lucky man who has been given the chance through an accident of fate to earn a living doing something most normal people enjoy as a hobby.
But he has never repaid the investment made in him first by Wenger and subsequently by a series of managers who recognised his talent and were willing to suspend their disbelief to see if he could deliver.
I see he is reviewing his position at West Brom now that the FA have levelled charges against him. Best for all concerned if he steps away from football.