Work in Sports
Anelka goes from headache to headliner
Posted: Tues May 23, 2000 at 4:19 p.m. EDTSportsTicker Contributing Writer PARIS, France (Ticker) - Having created more problems than goals this season, Nicolas Anelka may yet prove to be worth every peseta of the $36 million Real Madrid shelled out for him if the troublesome French striker can deliver an eighth Champions League title to the Spanish giants on Wednesday. When Real storms onto the Stade de France pitch to meet upset-minded Spanish league rivals Valencia, the loudest ovation is likely to be for the sullen Frenchman, who grew up in a rough Parisian suburb just a few miles from the stadium and remains a hero despite the petulance that has consistently derailed his promising career. With the curtain about to fall on a mostly forgettable campaign that has seen him fined, suspended, criticized and vilified, Anelka has yet another opportunity to put his career back on track. The 21-year-old Frenchman has already begun to win back some of the Madrid faithful, scoring crucial goals in each leg of the semifinals that saw Real pass Bayern Munich 3-2 on aggregate. Those efforts have made Anelka one of the key figures in Wednesday's historic final, which will, for the first time, see two teams from the same country battle for European club soccer's most coveted prize. It is a role few suspected Anelka would be playing. Suspended in March for 45 days after missing three training sessions and criticizing coach Vicente Del Bosque, Anelka's tumultuous time at the Santiago Bernabeu was believed to be at an end. But when a rash of late season injuries hit Real, the club opened the door to an early return, commuting Anelka's sentence to 27 days following a sheepish apology. The French international, however, has played his remaining matches for bonus money only instead of his $300,000 monthly salary. "Now people are going to really know the real Nicolas Anelka who played at Arsenal," said Anelka recently to the French press. "Because I can tell you that if things carry on this way I'm going to end up by regaining my confidence 100 percent. "I knew from the start that everything would sort itself out from the moment I scored some goals. That's the life of a striker." When Real obtained Anelka from Arsenal, the idea was to team the Frenchman with home grown sensation Raul, giving Madrid one of the most lethal strike partnerships in European football. But until recently, Anelka had never appeared comfortable in Real's famous all-white strip, waiting until January to collect his first league goal. Finally, Anelka has begun to repay the faith Real management has shown in his immense talent, not to mention the king's ransom they paid to obtain him. In 90 minutes on Wednesday, the Frenchman will have an opportunity to prove Real's move was a shrewd investment rather than the flop it first appeared. than the millions they paid to obtain Anelka. But more importantly it would again give the Spaniards a place in next season's money spinning Champions League. And many believe it is Anelka who will punch their ticket.
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