Real Madrid. Manchester City. Liverpool. Chelsea. PSG. Juventus.
Not a bad roll call for a player.
Arguably though, it was the two years that Nicolas Anelka fired goals for Arsenal that were his most prolific, his most dangerous – and showed his true potential.
For Gooners – is Anelka the ‘one that got away?’
In 1998, club legend Ian Wright was still the main man. New boss Arsene Wenger had a full season under his belt and had made some crucial signings – Patrick Vieira stands above most. But Wrighty was still leading the line for us and still banging in the goals.
But a modest fee given for a prodigious talent to PSG was about to show everyone that Wenger had a talent for spotting diamonds in the rough.
Step forward, teenage French striker, Nicolas Anelka.
It was the festive period in 1997 that Wrighty suffered an injury – that injury pushed 17-year-old Anelka into the lineup.
It was an opportunity he took emphatically, his pace scared the life out of opposing defenders and he was a big part of the campaign that saw us lift the Double for the first time in nearly thirty years.
Wrighty departed in the summer, with Anelka taking the striker slot full-time. And the Community Shield win over Man United was a sign of things to come for Anelka, who embarrassed Jaap Stam over 90 minutes with not only his speed, but his raw power too.
Still a teenager, Anelka began to make everyone notice that he wasn’t a one-season wonder. 17 goals in 35 PL games was enough to earn full international recognition and the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
The plaudits mattered little to Anelka though. Despite getting what most players can only dream of – playing for a major side in a high-profile league, European participation and playing for your country – it wasn’t enough for Anelka.
He and his agent sought a move away – with Real Madrid sniffing around. A record fee for a teenager followed – we made a huge profit on the striker – but what had we missed out on?
Anelka’s time at Real was short and he soon returned to his roots at PSG. This was the beginning of a career of big moves for Anelka, but he never quite hit the heights that his time with Arsenal threatened to materialise.
With all of the clubs he represented, there were only two clubs he made more appearances for than Arsenal – Man City and Chelsea. And his goal tallies at all the clubs he plied his trade for? Well, they never made headlines. They were decent – 45 in 103 for City, 59 in 184 for Chelsea, 23 in 61 for Bolton – but for that season and a half at Arsenal?
He looked like he would make the world sit up and take notice. He was the perfect blend of pace and power, with unerring finishing.
True, his departure would pave the way for a certain ‘King of Highbury’ to be crowned.
But Anelka leaves an unanswered question in our minds.
If Anelka had stayed, would he have continued in the vein he showed? Or would his perceived petulance and difficulty fitting in undermine what was a possible generational talent?
What do you think?
Was Anelka the one that got away?