Tuesday, September 20, 2011

For a change, Nicolas Anelka wants to be whiney in MLS

Nicolas Anelka to MLS? It nearly happened last month. And it could still happen yet.

A team "on the West Coast." Hm... wonder who that could be?

As Andre Villas-Boas settles into Chelsea and maps out those players that are his players and those that are not, Anelka was a second choice striker last weekend even as Didier Drogba gets his head screwed back on. Anelka's mercurial past bears mentioning here, because we know of his violent mood swings played out in the public purview when he feels even remotely slighted by his manager. Barring an about-face, it seems inevitable now.

Anelka has a notoriously fragile personality. As Simon Kuper notes in Soccernomics, Anelka's transfer to Real Madrid in 1999 remains one of the most flagrant examples of failed relocation in the game's modern history. And it was partly down to Anelka's lack of interpersonal skills. As he notes:
"A half hour conversation with Anelka is enough to confirm that he is self-absorbed, scared of other people and not someone who makes contact easily. Nor does he appear to be good at languages, because after a decade in England he still speaks very mediocre English. Anelka is the sort of expatriate who really needs a relocation consultant."
His troubles at Real Madrid were certainly not helped by Los Blancos. He wasn't initially assigned a locker, Real Madrid brass made very little attempt at integrating him into the club and he was given a 45-day ban "essentially for being maladjusted." He has run into personality troubles seemingly everywhere since. He has played at eight clubs in Europe, which would be an oddity even for a normal player of his high caliber and penchant for goals. But then you look at his mental track record and the journeyman lifestyle makes more sense. And I need not even mention France's epic collapse in South Africa last year, where Anelka was booted from the World Cup before Les Bleus' head even hit the floor (although the words he muttered to Domenech during that fateful halftime, while vile, sound almost romantic in French). He subsequently called the FFF "clowns" and laughed off the 18-game ban that ended his international career.

Where Anelka currently fits into MLS is unclear. When the Anelka bid fell through LA reached out to Robbie Keane, and that partnership seems to be a good fit for both parties. Moreover, LA now has its full allotment of DPs. The transitory nature of that tag would suggest that LA may be in the market for Anelka when the January window hits, and Beckham's five-year deal officially runs its course in 2012. But these are all heavy conditions for one of the higher profile signings in the league's history.

With French compatriot Theirry Henry on the roster, does New York make a play? Whether they should or not is a different matter since NY has exhausted its depth to sign bloated contracts, but Anelka's prospects in MLS are limited.

Who knows? Anelka's contract should definitely come with a bolded addendum: Buyer beware.

- Will Parchman

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