Nicolas Anelka, the man behind the French star of English football

The talented Chelsea footballer is as famous for his brilliant game on the field -once again demonstrated by his recent double goals against Sunderland- as he is for his “difficult” reputation. Here, the notoriously secretive Nicolas Anelka (30) overcomes his usual reserve towards the press to welcome Chic-Londres in his Wimbledon’s home, for a candid and honest interview on work, family, friends… and his hate of spiders!

You have played so far for Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, as well as in Paris and for the French national team: how do you compare French and English football? My experience of both is totally different, as much because of the audience than because of the game: in France, people are mostly spectators, in the sense that they go to a football match to see a show, while in England, they are true supporters, who are here to really support their team, in good as well as in bad times. When it comes to the game, English referees give the players much more freedom, because they accept that football is a violent game, while any physical contact on a French field is usually considered by the referee as a fault. As a result, football in France tends to proceed in fits and starts and therefore appears much less spectacular. Personally, I prefer to play in England, even though it means I am less protected physically, as I believe that taking some beating once in a while is part of the job.

Do you consider England as your adoptive country and do you enjoy living in London? I love this country, where I have been living on and off since I was 17: I have left in the past, for example when I went to play in Madrid, but I have always come back. I really enjoy the British way of thinking and the London’s way of life, as I find people here to be particularly open-minded, tolerant and non judgemental. What I also particularly like is the fact that people seem to be ready to give you a chance.

You are often described by the media as the « enfant terrible » of French football » and as a bad tempered and difficult person: what do you make of this description? I think it is completely wrong: if you talk with people who know me best, they will never say that. But I have got this image in part because I refuse to talk to the media, which seems to really annoy them, while this decision not to give interview only increases the impression. The fact is that I am not much of a talker and naturally quite shy, but also that I don’t see how and why answering questions to journalists can have any interest, especially when they all ask the same things. Most footballers play the media game but for me, the game is on the field only. If I don’t want to talk or if I do talk and happen to say what I really think, then too bad if that gives me a bad reputation. I am a strong person and I believe that I have stayed true to myself: for me, there is nothing terrible about that.

Which football players do you admire most ? I have a lot of respect for Brazilian Ronaldo, because his talent is exceptional. I also much admire Eric Cantona : I don’t know him personally, but really appreciate both his football and his personality. His career at Manchester United has been a huge inspiration to me, and I love the fact that he always seems to enjoy what he does, whether it is playing tennis, painting or acting. I very briefly met him once when I was twelve, but his football career stopped six months after and I have never met him since. Contrary to what people might think, the fact that we are two French football players doesn’t mean that we meet all the time : there are lots of people in football, and we don’t all know each other.

You appear to be very close to your friends and family: who is part of your entourage and what do you appreciate most in people ? I am very close to my parents, to my two elder brothers, to my wife -whom I met when I was 19- and to my close friends, which altogether form a very tight and closed circle. I have very few recent friends and in fact, I have met all my best friends long before I became a professional player : for example, I have known Doug and Harry -my manager and the designer of my fashion and accessories brand 39 pro- since I was six years old. In Chelsea, I get on with everyone, as all the players there are really friendly, and amongst the French team, I am close to Patrice Evra, William Gallas and Thierry Henry. Generally speaking, I like people who are sincere and who don’t take themselves too seriously, and when I meet someone, I tend to analyse this person before revealing anything about myself. It would never occur to me to invite someone I have only met two weeks before and even as a child, I rarely brought back friends to my house. When it comes to friendship, the most important for me is not quantity but quality: I have very few friends, but I am very devoted to the ones I have got.

How would you describe your personality? I would say that I am honest and direct, but I would rather leave it to ,y friends qnd relqtives to make this type of judgement. I like my life to be as simple as possible, and my real true extravagances are my cars, as I have a thing for beautiful cars. Other than that, I don’t think that I am very complicated: I train every morning, then I come back home to my wife and son. For me, an ideal evening is spent with my family watching TV: I spend most of my free time in my house as I really hate going out.

Why did you decide to convert to Islam? I come from the Parisian suburbs as most of the rest of French football team, and therefore have always had a lot of Muslim friends. I come from a Christian family but wasn’t practicing before. But i do practice Islam, which is a religion that I have slowly learnt to know, and which has taught be to lead a better life. This choice is purely personal and has come naturally: there was never any brain wash involved.

You have got a 18-month old son, Kaïs, who will soon have a little brother: what kind of father are you? My son is still very young, so my main duty so far has been to provide him with as much comfort as possible. But when he grows up, I really hope that I will be able to teach him a few things, and in particular the fact that nothing comes easily, that work is important and that life is not always simple. I would like to be here for him and to spend time with him, but I am really not sure that I would like him to play football because this job might provide wealth but also comes with a lot of pressures, including the fact that to be professionally trained, you have to leave home when ytou are twelve, which was what happened in my case. It can’t be easy for parents and I don’t think I would like my child to leave the house so young, and it is not always easy either for a teenager, who must leave behind not just his family but his friends and miss out on a more normal life n order to devote 100% of his time to football. I certainly don’t regret my choice, as it has led to a successful career, but I don’t necessarily wish the same for my son, who would have the added pressure to be constantly compared to his dad. I wouldn’t mind him playing tennis though, which is a sport I really enjoy…

Could you tell us something about yourself which we don’t know? I hate spiders : I am not afraid of them, but can’t stand to stay in a room with one of them !

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