Former Liverpool striker Nicolas Anelka has spoken about his disappointment that he never got to stay at the club.
Liverpool fans were elated in December 2001 when the rumours were confirmed – Nicolas Anelka was joining Liverpool on loan until the end of the season, with a view to the move being made permanent.
He was handed Robbie Fowler's number nine shirt, still warm after the local lad had been effectively forced out by then boss Gerard Houllier. There were some worries that Anelka, nicknamed "Le Sulk" might not have the right temperament, but all those worries were dispelled as Anelka put in some good performances.
Before the season ended, PSG announced they agreed a fee with Liverpool for the player, so all that remained to arrange where the financial terms for Anelka himself. Then something happened that we've never had fully explained. Anelka's demands weren't too high, yet he was refused a deal. Liverpool's boss Gerard Houllier strung PSG along until the last possible moment then signed El Hadji Diouf instead. Anelka was devastated, and looking back later so were Liverpool's fans. Diouf was, to be frank, pathetic. On the field he was never able to perform the way he did in a couple of World Cup 2002 matches. He was an embarrassment to Fowler's number nine shirt, the shirt that had been worn by Ian Rush before Fowler got his hands on it. Even moved to the wings he was hopeless.
Now Anelka says if he'd been allowed to sign the deal that had almost been agreed he thinks he'd still have been here today: "Liverpool was a very important step, because when I left Arsenal I didn't really find the club that suited me. That was a club that really suited me. I believe if I had signed for three or four years at Liverpool, I would still be there now."
He says: "It was the club I got a kick out of, also it allowed me to play the role I love, just behind Owen and Heskey. Why didn't I stay? I don't know. You should ask Gerard Houllier."
That very same summer Gerard Houllier also signed Salif Diao, still costing Liverpool money every week on his huge contract (although Stoke have been paying part of his wages of late) and Bruno Cheyrou, described as "the next Zidane" for reasons we never did see justified. Something went badly wrong that summer, arguably the beginning of the end of Houllier's reign at the club.
It’s unlikely he’ll ever now get a chance to come back to Anfield; surely Benítez would have made a move for him before now if he had any interest, but don’t be surprised if Anelka’s quotes are brought into some silly-season story or other in the next four weeks of transfer window torment.
Anelka was on the losing side on Monday as his current side Bolton were beaten 3-0 by the Reds. His team-mate Jussi Jaaskelainen, their Finnish goalkeeper, wasn’t pleased with the comments made by Reds boss Rafa Benítez in advance of the game. Rafa had criticised Bolton for the way they seem to bend the rules, and singled out Reds reject El Hadji Diouf in particular after he admitted he thought his diving was “clever”. Jaaskelainen seemed to either misunderstand what Rafa was complaining about, or feels having a smaller budget makes it acceptable for Bolton to cheat or push the rules to the limits: “It’s not nice the things that their manager has said. I think he should give us more respect because we have earned it. It’s easy for them because they can go out and spend millions and millions. We don’t. We’re trying to work hard and work for each other and we have earned a little more respect than they give us.”