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  1. Nicolas the GOAT It all could have gone so right for Nicolas Anelka A couple of weeks ago I alluded to the possibility that Nicolas Anelka could have been our GOAT instead of Thierry Henry. On the face of it, there is very little argument here for this proposition. Henry is the greatest striker ever for Arsenal, acknowledged as a great of the game and won lots of honours in a star-studded career. Whereas Anelka trundled around at times at the likes of Fenerbahce and Bolton. I would like to take a look at their two careers and see where it all went wrong for Anelka and so very right for Henry. Temperament is the big area, Anelka invited trouble all his career, even in his early days at Arsenal some fans nicknamed him “Le sulk” because he would seem to lose interest. He had a spectacular fallout with Raymond Domenech, the French international manager which led to him being excluded from the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. He made an allegedly anti-Semitic gesture while playing for Bolton Wanderers which led to his contract being terminated. Self improvement vs Money He had a huge fan in Arsene Wenger in his early days but pushed for a big money move to Real Madrid thus foregoing the benefits to his career of being looked after by Wenger, and learning from the exceptional talents around him like Bergkamp, Petit, Overmars, Vieira, Adams, etc. Learning how to be a winner, a competitor, improving his game, developing into a key player as Thierry Henry did when he took his place. However, there is no denying his talent, his ability to pick himself up off the floor, to keep trying, going to the less glamorous clubs in order to keep himself in the eye and get his career back on track. He always scored goals, he got 69 games for France at a time when Henry was supreme, and that included various crises which happened to him at international level. He played for Arsenal, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester City, Juventus and Paris St Germain, which in some ways is more impressive than Henry. Eh, no, he doesn't look happy Maybe even 400 goals? Anyway, supposing he had stayed at Arsenal. Supposing also that Wenger had got through to him that football must come first, improving his skills, learning from the greats around him, it seems certain that Ian Wright’s record was easily within his grasp. In fact, seeing as he joined Arsenal at 17, and allowing a career till 34, he could have had 300 plus goals for the Arse. We would be talking about him with awe, our GOAT, and assuming our team won similar as we did with Henry, then he would have been laden with honours, scorer of great goals and acknowledged as a world great. Instead, while nobody doubted his talents, exemplified by the amount of top teams willing to take a chance on him, and his many caps despite the fractured club career, he is regarded as a talent wasted, one who did not achieve his potential. Thierry the winner But what does this all mean for Thierry Henry, who gained the most from Anelka’s fractured temperament, because I believe Wenger would not have signed him if Anelka hadn’t wanted away? You would have to assume that the transformation to striker may not have happened as Henry resisted this change. Indeed, he was very uncomfortable with it and I am certain he would have given up at the start as he wasn’t scoring goals and getting stick because of it. Wenger persisted, Henry trusted him, the goals started to come, and with the goals, the belief and the phenomenon finally exploded to become, over time, our GOAT. Wenger had total belief in his best position But at Juventus, he was struggling, he had won a World Cup for France but not as a vital member of the team. He needed to link up with someone like Wenger, to take him in hand, and see his real potential. It is rare for a footballer to excel in two positions and Henry would surely have been a top winger given his undoubted class, but maybe not a great. Maybe he would have been moved on to another team, his confidence low, and his career never reached the highs. Darkness vs Light I wonder has he ever thought about that? How his life may have turned out if Anelka hadn’t wanted away and Wenger saw him as his replacement? Maybe he wouldn’t have been the superstar he was to become? To give an example of how renowned he was at his prime, when Nike launched their most successful slogan ever, they chose Roger Federer, then undisputedly the greatest in tennis, Tiger Woods, the world’s best golfer, and Henry to represent football, the biggest sport on the planet. Thierry, you have just done it. Around that period of time, he was regarded as probably the best footballer in the world. But it could have gone so wrong. It might have been Anelka they chose. If he had stayed, would he have drifted into obscurity? The thing is, probably Henry has never really thought like this. He went to Wenger. Wenger persuaded him to switch to striker. He formed an extraordinary partnership with Bergkamp. What must defenders have thought when up against those two? Not physically afraid as they weren’t bruisers like Duncan Ferguson but afraid of looking like amateurs, not able for the sublime skillset of these masters. Henry, in the real world, became the guy that Lionel Messi was afraid to look in the eye when he joined Barcelona, he was so much in awe of him. He couldn’t believe he was going to play with his hero. The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on The converse is true, though. Anelka accepts that he made a big mistake leaving Arsenal. He wasn’t ready for Real Madrid and the Galacticos. I reckon he has had many dark nights of the soul, knowing that he could have been The Arsenal Great, the one that the team knows will score, will always give them a chance, and keeps their confidence high year after year, just as Henry had done, like Messi, like Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and others have done down through the years. Life is strange, and people will say to me, Gus, what you are saying is wrong, Henry would always have ended up great, even if not at Arsenal and Anelka would still have squandered his talent somewhat if he had stayed. But I disagree, if for some reason, that Madrid move didn’t happen, and Wenger got one more year with Anelka, then Henry and Anelka’s lives could have been so much different. In fact, many players have great talents and don't even make it because of temperament and that is the one flaw in my argument, Henry's was good, Anelka's wasn't. Could Wenger have improved that? Maybe. But it is a good life lesson, try to always do what is the best for your development, and never for the money. Ask Nicolas Anelka!
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