Nicolas Anelka, aka, Le Sulk, faces the ultimate dilemma of his career: how does a player who has hated all his coaches handle being a player-coach? Does he hate himself? Has he always hated himself? Before we get to the armchair psychology and dramatic conclusion, let’s look at how Anelka reached this delicate point.
Throughout his career, Nicolas has lived in the moment, which is to say, he has changed clubs frequently and often at a moment’s notice. Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea – he’s worn the jersey of some pretty famous teams.He’s also said goodbye to all of them. Worst yet, Nicolas has not left many friends at his former employers. He does not burn his bridges, he incinerates them. Eventually, most successful professionals realize 1) There are lots of games in a season, and 2) As you age, you play less. Nicolas Anelka is not most professionals. Every game he doesn’t start has always been a personal insult against his honor.
Thin skin aside, his marauding off the field matches his style of play. Anelka has never had the hold-up play, work ethic, or passing to be a sole target man. He’s a better downhill runner than aerial jouster. However, his lack of defensive commitment also prevents him from being a true winger. He looks more comfortable floating to the left and cutting in on offense, but rarely backtracks an opposing defender’s overlapping run. At the 2010 World Cup, he grew frustrated playing as the point in France’s 4-5-1, flipped out mid-game at Les Bleus coach Raymond Domenech, and got sent home early. People still cry and point fingers about the later French mutiny, but, in a very real sense, Le Sulk was the catalyst. Nicolas has never met a coach he couldn’t eventually hate and/or undermine.
Of course, he enjoyed a fruitful spell at Chelsea. After a decade of wandering, he settled in at Stamford Bridge and finally delivered on his great promise. With Drogba as the target man, Anelka would drift wide and race at defenders on counterattacks. His runs from the left wing tore defenses to shreds. However, Gus left. Then Carlo exited. Then came Villas-Boas, Le Sulk got benched, and he cajoled a big money transfer to China. A nice pre-retirement pension, no?
Wrong. His club, Shanghai Shensua, have flirted with relegation. Anelka has scored only two goals. In the course of a single interview, Le Sulk complained that he had taken over as coach with no pay increase. Poor Anelka now has to handle the day-to-day training and team selection! However, in that same interview he later claimed that he doesn’t want to stop being coach. Which is it? Does he or does he not want to be coach? The answer, of course, is both.
His entire career, Nicolas Anelka has never known what he wants but will be mad as hell when he eventually doesn’t get it.
At first, I was optimistic that Nicolas Anelka’s spin as a player-coach would, for the first time ever, impress on him the stresses and grind of managing a club. His dual role would force his two egos to confront one another. It was a nice theory, but, in practice, Anelka is just using his coach powers to serve his petulant player interests. If your team is near relegation and your striker has scored only two goals, then you bench your striker. But guess whose name is always penned into the starting lineup by Coach Anelka? Guess who just kinda skips practice?
This is not a case of “power corrupts.” Rather, corrupt people like to do corrupt things with their power. Duh. Anelka the tyrant-coach loves being able to select a player of his caliber. Meanwhile, Anelka the tyrant-player loves being able to start games and not have to worry about “training” or “fitness” or “scoring goals.” Instead of confronting his inner demons, it’s bipolar love at first sight. Of course, I still hold out hope that Anelka the player will get Anelka the coach fired. His last three coaches, Ancelotti, Villas-Boas, Tigana, all got pink slips.
When his own torch burns himself, Le Sulk may finally learn his lesson about sportsmanship, camaraderie, and patience. Or, he’ll move to a gulf club and make a six figure weekly salary. Until then, he remains the player-coach that is a player’s coach, but not the players’ coach. I await eagerly the next chapter in this saga.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sergio Batista is now officially the coach of Shanghai Shensua. Anelka has not quit, but we expect him to hate and/or run off this coach within at least one year, if not sooner.
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