With the deal having now been confirmed with Nicolas Anelka being pictured outside the Hawthorns with a West Bromwich Albion shirt it appears as though Steve Clarke is attempting to rebuild his strike force which has been left decimated by departures thus far this summer. With Romelu Lukaku returning to Chelsea after his hugely successful loan campaign with West Brom during which the Belgian registering seventeen League goals and Peter Odemwingie expected to be forced out of the club following his post-Christmas exile as a result of his desire to move to Queens Park Rangers, West Brom are in need of a brand new strike force with Steve Clarke desperate to avoid placing too much pressure on Shane Long.
Nicolas Anelka, now thirty four years old and a free agent following the cancellation of his contract with Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua is the first addition to the Baggies’ attacking line-up this summer however the jubilation this move has been greeted with by Albion supporters on social networking sites, I fear may be slightly premature and ill-advised. You never quite know what you’re going to get with Nicolas Anelka, his career looked all but in tatters when the Frenchman pitched up at Bolton Wanderers in 2006 however a fantastic spell at the Reebok earned him a surprise move to Chelsea where we saw both the best and worst of Anelka.
Consistency is not one of Anelka’s strong points with the Frenchman having the canny ability to put in an outstanding performance one weekend and then somehow follow it up with a disastrous display the week after, make no mistake however that when Anelka is on form there is very little you can do defensively to stop him. Whilst the pace is no longer what it once was way back in Anelka’s prime the knowledge of when to time runs in behind is as sharp and as useful as ever before with it being unfortunate that Anelka didn’t get more game time in his six month loan spell in Turin with Italian giants Juventus last season.
In terms of quality then there is little you can say negatively about Steve Clarke’s decision to bring Anelka into the club with the former Arsenal man offering not just a boost in quality to West Brom’s dwindling forward line but more importantly in the short term, a boost in depth following the departure of Lukaku. Anelka will not replace the seventeen goals scored by Lukaku last season, simply because I don’t think he will get the game time required to do so but he will offer an option coming off the bench for the last twenty or so minutes in games. West Bromwich supporters cant, at this stage of his career expect and indeed hope for any more than that.
What is also worth a mention is Anelka’s well known ‘attitude’ when things aren’t going his way at a football club, nicknamed ‘Le Incredible Sulk’ after a number of incidents within the French national team set-up, Anelka was most recently caught up in controversy in China when the French striker refused to bow to travelling away supporters causing an altercation with one particular supporter who took exception to this. Furthermore who can forget the infamous French trip to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup where Anelka was sent home in disgrace following a heated altercation with the then struggling boss Raymond Domenech and what is to say a similar sort of thing won’t occur at West Brom should Anelka not be receiving the treatment he feels he deserves?
Steve Clarke is known to be a strict disciplinarian as a coach with the former Chelsea coach being respected for his firm but fair approach to his players, Clarke was tested significantly this past season by one individual in particular and that was Peter Odemwingie, who after an initially positive start to the season on the pitch with a goal in the season opener against Liverpool, made it publicly clear he wanted to leave the Midlands club to join Queens Park Rangers despite the Baggies significantly higher league position.
The frequent requests to leave the club were denied stringently by Clarke and eventually this forced Odemwingie’s hand with the Nigerian forward pitching up at Queens Park Rangers’ training ground on transfer deadline day in January only to be asked to leave by QPR officials leading to a sulking Nigerian forward sitting in the Loftus Road car park for the remainder of the transfer window. Whilst Albion kept their player, Odemwingie was essentially exiled for the remainder of the season with supporters booing him when used as an infrequent substitute.
Whilst Steve Clarke handled this situation as best he could there was no doubt West Bromwich Albion were a weaker side without Odemwingie and were at a disadvantage not having him at the forefront of their attack which was proven by West Brom’s record of registering just four League wins after their Boxing Day victory over Queens Park Rangers which ultimately cost Steve Clarke’s side in their ambition to qualify for the 2013-2014 edition of the Europa League. Now the same scenario that occurred with Odemwingie could quite easily occur with Nicolas Anelka and the worrying thing for me is that with Anelka it could come about as a result of the most miniscule detail as we saw with the aforementioned clash with a Shanghai Shenhua support over his refusal to bow to supporters.
At this stage of his career Nicolas Anelka is not and should not be used as a Premier League team’s main striker and it is likely that Steve Clarke will be aware of this and use the Frenchman accordingly with regards to his age and fellow strikers at the club however what worries me is whether or not Anelka is willing to accept this? Will the Nicolas Anelka returning to the Premier League with West Brom be the same headstrong Nicolas Anelka who has often forced himself out of clubs as a result of his behaviour and attitude and if the answer is yes, then the West Bromwich Albion supporters overcome with glee at today’s signing are in for a rocky few months with Nicolas Anelka at the club.
Follow Chris Winterburn on Twitter @Chriswin4