This Wednesday in Moscow, Nicolas Anelka will be reacquainted
with the UEFA Champions League final and, he hopes, the same
emotions he experienced eight years ago. Then plying his trade with
Real Madrid, the Frenchman reached the European summit after an
all-Spanish affair at the Stade de France ended in the 3-0 defeat
Now representing Chelsea and looking forward to an all-English encounter with Manchester United, the French international will join Claude Makelele in trying to gain membership to the elite group of Frenchman to have lifted the prestigious trophy twice. So far, only Marcel Desailly and Didier Deschamps, both former Blues players, can make that claim.
That could prove to be an excellent omen for Anelka, 29, who
dreams of finishing the season on a supreme high after fighting his
way back into the limelight at both club and international level. A
Bolton Wanderers player at the start of the campaign, he could have
been contenting himself with Premier League survival right now, but
his impressive performances at the heart of a team in trouble
earned him a move to Stamford Bridge in the winter, thus fulfilling
his ambition of turning out for another English powerhouse after
earlier spells with Arsenal and Liverpool.
For all their heavyweight stature, though, Chelsea were unable to pip Manchester United to the Premier League title this month, leaving the Londoners keen to exact their revenge on the continental stage. It is the match everyone is talking about, including Anelka, who spoke to FIFA.com about Wednesday's encounter and his own career.
FIFA.com: Nicolas, have Chelsea recovered from the disappointment of missing out on the Premier League title last weekend?
Nicolas Anelka: There wasn't too much disappointment because we'd come back into contention from far behind. We hoped we'd win but we also knew that the title wasn't in our hands. In spite of everything, it was down to what Manchester United did. They were ahead for most of the race and deserve their title. They had a good season. It's been good for us to feel the pressure lift a bit so that we can come back fresh.
Can you feel the pressure rising again? Are the players getting impatient?
Not yet. In any case, I don't read the press so I'm not even aware of what proportions it's taking in England. I think the pressure will come in the last few days before the final, especially when we arrive in Russia.
Chelsea were level on points with United going into the last round of the Premier League, so will there be a sentiment of revenge going into Wednesday's final?
Revenge, no, but as they won the championship we'll try to win the Champions League. Otherwise, that would leave our season looking... let's not say bleak because it's always good to reach two finals [Chelsea also lost the League Cup final 2-1 to Tottenham Hotspur after extra time], but if we lose both it will be difficult to take.
Does the fact that you beat Manchester United 2-1 at Stamford Bridge three weeks ago give you a psychological advantage?
No. It's totally different. Everything will come down to one match, in a completely different context. The two teams will give everything. They want to secure the double and we don't want to finish the season without a trophy. We know them well and they know us well. It could turn out to be an open game with two teams and great players on both sides, just as it could be a really tight encounter. Anything can happen. But a Champions League final is always a huge match. We'll have to be concentrated and give our all. I've been lucky enough to win once with Real Madrid. There wasn't any special preparation; I was just on the right side that day. A final really comes down to very little.
So you had good instincts in joining Chelsea this season...
(Laughs) Six months ago, before I'd even come here, I said Chelsea were going to win the Champions League. We'll see if that's how things turns out!
What are your memories of that triumph with Real Madrid in 2000?
I've still got very good memories, and it was in Paris as well, at the Stade de France. A Champions League final is something special because it's a competition everyone dreams of winning. You rarely get to a European cup final in your career, so when you get the chance and you win it, it's huge. It's one of the most prestigious trophies in the world. [It's great to say] you've done it. So to reach a second final...
On a personal level, how would you rate your first few months at Chelsea?
I play. From time to time... (smiles)
Not enough for your liking?
There's a lot of competition. That's the way it is. I knew that before I joined. The coach (Avram Grant) explained to me that Chelsea were used to playing 4-5-1 and he intended to switch to 4-4-2 the following year. He didn't want to destabilise the squad and change tactics. I have to accept that. He knows what he's doing. When I go on, I play on the wing, either on the left or the right. That's not really my role. But I'm staying patient. I waited for a long time to join a big club. I've only been here four months, so for the moment it doesn't bother me too much. I work every day in training to win my place in the team, hoping the coach plays me in my preferred role.
That said, will things have to change next season?
We'll see with the coach. He's the one who knows and who'll decide how we'll play. But I hope to play a bit more, there's no doubt.
Do you regret not having played more alongside Didier Drogba?
It's a bit of a shame, yes. We both wanted it to happen. But since I signed in January, we've hardly played together at all.
One person who will be pleased you have not played too much is France coach Raymond Domenech...
(Smiles) It's maybe good before the EURO. It's allowed me to rest a bit. You always tend to want to play more often. Sometimes, it's good to see your team-mates from the bench - just as long as it doesn't go on for too long.