Apology Behind Him, Real Madrid's Forward Helps Break Bayern : A Goal Returns Anelka to Favor
LONDON: Has Nicolas Anelka come of age?
Six weeks ago, before his 21st birthday, he was the outcast of Bernabeu Stadium, the sullen center forward who had withdrawn his labor and refused to play to the structure laid down by Real Madrid, the club that paid $35 million to lure him from London less than a year before.
Madrid had no option but to tell him to stay away, to stop contaminating the effort and the atmosphere for its other millionaire players who are on a mission to recapture the UEFA Champions League. He was, we heard, on his way back to Paris Saint-Germain at a financial loss of some $10 million
And then? Forgiveness. Lorenzo Sanz, the Real Madrid president, lightened the punishment for the "boy" and invited him back into the fold. Vicente Del Bosque, the lugubrious coach who had been appointed until the end of May, decided that if Anelka was prepared to play he, the trainer, would alter his plans, open his heart, and forget the personal insults. Now Del Bosque is in Anelka's debt. On Wednesday, Sanz said, "Del Bosque is a giant, he can be the coach until he says he doesn't want to be."
Anelka, after all, had become a grown-up. He had humbly read out a statement, worded with the help of Sanz, apologizing for his attitude. Now would the players forgive and forget?
Score a goal, Nicolas, and they might.
So, barely fit after barely training, Anelka strode back into the semifinal of the European Cup against Bayern Munich. In the first leg, with a turbo boost of his extraordinary pace and an example of his coldly clinical finishing, he scored the first, decisive goal.
It shows how innate is the speed, ability and instinct of the scorer.
Bayern was in shock, but there was another leg to play, this time in Munich's Olympic Stadium where the home team's renowned fighting spirit might ask the questions of Real Madrid. Sure enough, on Tuesday, the Bayern management introduced its own hulking, shaven-headed center forward, Carsten Jancker.
Carsten doesn't possess the searing acceleration of Anelka, but he does intimidate in the goalmouth and does use his height and weight for every ball. Iker
Casillas, the Madrid goalie, is but a teenager. For all his wonderful acrobatics and big match temperament these past few months, he looks uncertain against crosses.
In they came, right and left. Up went Jancker, brushing aside Ivan Campo, a Real defender, like a rhino swishing aside a fly. The first time Jancker imposed his height, he beat Casillas, but Ivan Salguera booted the ball off the goal line. Jancker came again, and this time, improvising with surprising grace, he hooked the ball into the net from hip height. That was the 12th minute, and Bayern was on its way.
But Real Madrid, led by Fernando Redondo, its commanding midfielder, started to tease the Bayern defense, which, since the departure to New York of the 39-year-old Lothar Matthaus has surrendered what order it had. Anelka outpaced Samuel Kuffor on the ground but missed his chance.
Would Anelka start to sulk once more? On the eve of the game he had revealed again how fragile is his commitment to the cause. "Having to apologize to Del Bosque," he grumbled, "was like having to take my pants down in front of him. I only did it for the president."
Anelka's beef this time was that Del Bosque doesn't play to his strengths the way Arsenal (which he abandoned in mid-contract to join Madrid) did. "I'm someone who needs the ball played into space," Anelka insisted.
Well, not always, Nicolas, not always. In the 31st minute, Savio, Real's left winger, showed true Brazilian dexterity in changing to his right foot and chipping the ball not into space but accurately onto the head of Anelka. Anyone who saw Anelka at Arsenal might suggest that was a waste, that Nicolas and headed goals do not go together.
Yet, without changing his position, and with his back to goal, Anelka rose. Again his marvelous athleticism was too much for Kuffor. He outjumped the defender and whipped a flashing header past Oliver Khan into the Bayern goal.
In this match, as in Madrid, Anelka had broken the German resistance. Stefan Effenberg worked hard to rouse Munich, clenching his teeth and his fist and creating a goal, another header, for Giovane Elber. It was not enough: 2-1 to Bayern in the Olympic Stadium was less than 2-0 to Real in the Bernabeu, and Real advanced, 3-2, on aggregate.