Straight from the dark heart of Italy
The €100 million man has landed at another club. That is the estimated figure Nicolas Anelka has demanded in transfer fees throughout a nomadic career that has taken him from France to England, Spain, Turkey, China and now Italy.
“Le Sulk” flew into Turin on a private jet from Paris just hours before Juventus were set to host Chievo on Saturday evening. But even though the Juventus Stadium is only a ten-minute drive from the airport, there was no chance of the striker attending the game – not with a medical to be completed on Sunday morning.
Instead, the 33-year-old watched the match from the comfort of his hotel suite and was given an early indication on what the next five months with the defending champions will hold – with the Old Lady becoming more adamant there are forces attempting to derail their title defence with each passing week.
A pulsating match could easily have seen referee Marco Guida award three or four penalties – the last of which had Antonio Conte raging, when Genoa’s Andreas Granqvist miskicked a clearance into his own hand three minutes into added time. The official behind the goal seemed to indicate a penalty should be awarded, but after a slight hesitation Guida opted for the safer outcome – or so he thought – a corner kick.
At the final whistle, as the weary players trooped off with the points shared in a 1-1 draw, a distressed Conte, followed closely by his staff, raced onto the pitch to confront the officials. “It’s a disgrace” he was heard to scream, as he jabbed an accusing finger at Guida, who he later claimed had told him he did not feel “ready” to award a penalty at such a late moment in the game, a statement the referee later denied making.
If Anelka thought he had arrived at a club in control of their domestic league, his eyes will have instantly been opened to the fact that he will be expected to play a key role through the rest of the campaign. With just one win in their last four league outings, this is as big a wobble as Juve have suffered for well over a year.
In Conte, of course, he will have a coach who has no time for shirkers, and he will be expected to knuckle down to the task at hand – and that is providing goals – something that Nicklas Bendtner had failed to do quite spectacularly in the first half of the season.
In fact, there may have even been a hidden sense of relief that the Dane had been ruled out for a few months, so at least the club had a genuine excuse to find a replacement to help solve their goalscoring difficulties.
It’s plain to see that for all the chances they create, the problems lie in consistently putting the ball in the net, and with it putting matches beyond doubt. Fabio Quagliarella took his goal total to six for the season on Saturday, equal with Sebastian Giovinco and one ahead of Mirko Vucinic - Alessandro Matri is on four.
With Fernando Llorente not arriving from Athletic Bilbao until the summer and Lisandro Lopez of Olympique Lyonnais considered too pricey, there was a need for a short-term fix and in what club general manager Beppe Marotta claimed was an “emergency situation” so who better to turn to than a proven goalscorer.
Anelka has scored wherever he has played – well, apart from China - and at Juventus he has an added incentive of a series of bonuses linked to appearances, wins and goals; to go with his €100,000 a week salary. There are still some bureaucratic issues to be resolved with his current club Shanghai Shenhaua and the Chinese Football Federation; in particular a clause on extending the deal for another season, but Juventus are confident matters will be resolved in the coming days.
Anelka certainly has his work cut out, having last played back in November, and the closest he has come to kicking a ball has been a week’s training with former club Paris St. Germain.
Conte has targeted next Sunday and the tricky away game at Chievo, who won at Lazio at the weekend, as Anelka’s debut. With Napoli reducing the gap to just three points at the top, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see the new arrival swiftly thrown in at the deep end.
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