26 Jan 2013

Rodgers: Controversial €12m Chelsea hero is one of the 'nicest guys in football'

Many Liverpool fans - myself included - were hugely disappointed when Gerard Houllier let Nicolas Anelka leave Anfield at the end of the 2001-2002 season. Houllier later admitted that he made a mistake, and the early exit from Anfield just added to the Frenchman's (baseless) reputation for being standoffish and hard to deal with. Current Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers worked with Anelka at Chelsea, and in an interview this week, he rejected suggestions that the striker is an 'awkward' player.

At the end of the 2001-2 season, the Reds had had just finished second in the league, the club was unbeaten in 19 of his 22 appearances, and most people expected the club to hand Anelka a permanent deal. It didn't happen, and along with Gary McAllister, Jari Litmanen, and Robbie Fowler, Anelka left the club, and their replacements? Salif Diao and El Hadji Diouf (!)

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Rodgers dismissed unfounded concerns about Daniel Sturridge's attitude, and drew a comparison between the Reds' new £12m striker and Anelka, who joined Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua €12m last summer. He observed:

"I remember being at Chelsea and I'd heard all these things about Nicolas Anelka being an awkward player and I found him one of the nicest guys I ever met in football. Sometimes when you are quiet and you focus on yourself you can be criticised for being awkward, but I don't think that is the case with Daniel at all."

In 2008, Anelka - who signed a five month loan deal with Juventus today - revealed his regret at missing out on a permanent Anfield deal. He told The Telegraph:

"He [Houllier] said 'I promise I will sign you' but then he changed his mind and never explained why. I really wanted to sign for them and I have a lot of regret about that."

In 2009, Houllier admitted his mistake, and provided details of why he made the decision to let Anelka go. He remembered:

"It was a mistake on my part because I should have should have carried on regardless. I thought, right to the end, I was going to sign him, but then I didn't feel the thing was right. I did not like the fact that, while he was at Liverpool with a purchase option to play for us, his brothers had tried to contact other clubs to sell him. I did not think that was fair play."

In a column for the Daily Mail last year, Jamie Redknapp, who played in the same team as Anelka, echoed Rodgers' view. He noted:

"When I played for Gerard Houllier, the Liverpool dressing room loved Nicolas Anelka. He was a talent and an explosive footballer, but Houllier didn't like the unpredictability of his nature. Some managers can't handle mavericks".

At that time, Anelka was in the prime of his career, and if he'd stayed, perhaps the 2002-3 season wouldn't have been such a disaster?

Jaimie Kanwar

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  1. It is so weird seeing Anelka play for Liverpool....

  2. Houllier regularly met Wenger for dinner when they both worked in England.

    I've always felt that Houliier's pride wouldn't allow him to avail of the services of a Wenger find.

    He wanted to discover his own talent and made a gargantuan error. I was gutted when we didn't sign him........

  3. Was it not something to do with anelka upsetting some of houlliers buddys in the french fa

  4. Biggest mistake Houllier ever made, just as you say JK, aost every fan could see his worth! Then we ended up with Diouf!

  5. Give me a team full of Anelka's any day then a team full of Dioufs. I agree one of Houllier's biggest mistakes.

  6. Diouf, Diao and Ponggole. all flops signed by Houllier. Anelka was class. We lost on a gem of a player and the league that following year. What If........

  7. When some of the natural talent go off by our door steps i alz felt luck played their part in our downfall. Now i am again starting to believe we are in the track of winning lots of silverware cos the type of talent we are buying are gifted and versatile.