I hate to be the bearer of bad news. I really do. It's not as if I'm a Debbie Downer-type, looking to crush my fellow fans' hopes out of curmudgeonly bitterness. After all, no one was more excited than me when the rumors began swirling of Thierry Henry's imminent arrival in New York. But I'm afraid it has to be said. There is no serious indication that Nicolas Anelka is getting ready to sign with a team in Major League Soccer.
I can hear it now. "Why the 'Bah Humbug' to our happiest of holiday wishes, Scott?" My answer: Consider the source.
(More after the jump...)
Every story of Anelka's interest in MLS cites one source: Claude Anelka, Nicolas' own older brother. This isn't idle rumor mongering – this is straight-from-the-family-dinner-table stuff. This isn't Anelka-was-seen-talking-to-Thierry-Henry-at-a-London-hotspot conjecture – this has Hey-Claude-pass-the-peas-oh-and-by-the-way-is-American-real-estate-really-as-cheap-as-I'm-hearing-these-days veracity!
So why is that a problem? Who better than Anelka's own sibling to provide insight into the Chelsea striker's intentions? Well, the first issue is that each and every one of these stories cites the same interview with Claude. Journalists these days are lazy. I'll admit it – bloggers probably have something to do with that. Able to write whatever we want whenever we want with no editors keeping us in check, the pressure is on to simply create content rather than engage in high-level journalism. Hell, I can spell it "jerrnuhlizm" and no one will catch it before publication. But I digress.
The more pressing issue is Claude Anelka's own credibility. Let's look at the facts. Claude Anelka loves coaching. He's not very good at it, mind you, but he does love it. He loves it so much that he paid for his first coaching gig. He offered a bounty of £300,000 to anyone who could help him realize his dream of becoming The Even Specialer One. He found one taker in Scotland's Raith Rovers, who hired him and then promptly fired him after eight losses, one tie, and no wins.
Fast forward to Cary, North Carolina in April of 2010. It's the first match of the season for NASL's AC St. Louis and Claude Anelka is their head coach. From the get go, to say that things were not going well would be an understatement. I'll leave it to the Scots Canadian blogger at Away From The Numbers to tell the story:
With the game approaching kick off and the teamsheets already handed in, the referee was checking each players ID cards (as required in the League there). Slight problem. St Louis player, the experienced Manuel Kante, had left his ID card at the team's hotel!
So Claude was faced with some decisions.
As the teamsheets were already submitted with Kante's name on them it was too late to switch players and have Kante on the bench. He could be subbed out though as soon as the match kicked off, leaving St Louis at full strength. In the NASL/USL each team is allowed five subs anyway, so no big deal.
The other, ridiculous, option would be to start the game with ten men until Kante could recover the ID from the hotel, return to the stadium and join in the game.
I know, I know, it's a no brainer.
Well, apparently not, as Claude chose option two!!!
Even before his disastrous tenure at ACSL – he was let go half-way through the season – the Guardian had slotted Anelka in at number 9 on their list of "The 10 Worst Football Managers." Even with some experience at the professional level as a player and even more as his brother's agent, it must be said that Claude Anelka is a man who trades on nothing more than a famous name. He's no different than Steven Baldwin or Roger Clinton. Telling a French website that focuses on MLS that his brother is considering a move to the league is simply a matter of playing to an audience, keeping them interested, and maintaining relevance. Pity the team that gives Claude Anelka a job in their front office, hoping to be the ones to sign Nicolas to his first US contract.
So I'm afraid this is one parade that MUST be rained on. Make no mistake, Nicolas Anelka would be a great addition to American soccer. And it still could happen, especially as the league grows in talent, popularity and international stature. But as long as the word of his brother is the only indication that it's a realistic possibility, then I'd wager against it happening.
(Cross-posted at The Social Footballer)