Anelka's first day at Real Madrid: "What am I doing here? It was the start of a nightmare"
The French striker recalled his time at Real Madrid on Netflix: "I found out what it meant to be a star when I joined Madrid and I hated it".
Nicolas Anelka spoke openly about his one and only season at Real Madrid in a Netflix documentary. Before his arrival in Spain, the young French striker had spent time at Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal and joined Madrid in 1999 as the most expensive signing in history. Expectations were high and for one reason or another, it just didn't work out for him at the Bernabeu and he left the following summer.
Anelka's first day at Real Madrid
Anelka didn't have an easy first day at Madrid. He was presented and began training with his new team mates. He had to borrow someone else's kit, and his first moments inside the dressing room were awkward. It was his first taste of what was to come. "I found out what it meant to be a star when I arrived in Madrid... and I hated it. After the press conference, I went into the dressing room. I was the first to arrive and I sat down. Every player who came in said: 'That's my place'. 'Oh, sorry, can I sit there?' 'Yes, sure, over there's fine' then another player would come in and say: 'That's my place'. It just continued like that, 20 times... I was thinking to myself, 'What am I doing here?'. This is going to be a tough and hostile place”. That day was just the start of a nightmare," he explained.
Pressure to deliver at Real Madrid
Joining a club like Real Madrid is not as simple as some might think. The pressure is much greater than at Arsenal or PSG. Anelka hated the attention he was subjected to and couldn't get away from the moment he arrived in capital. "The pressure was immense right from the start. I realised that because I was always being talked about in the papers, every day there was an article or a photo. I wasn't performing to expectations out on the pitch - partly because I had no private life. I couldn't do anything about it. I was 20 years old and couldn't leave the house. Everything I did was considered news. If I went out to buy something, it was in the papers the next day. The press want you to open up to them but I'm just not that kind of person, I'm quite reserved. Maybe that had something to do with why I wasn't accepted by the others, things weren't working out for me on the pitch, the press weren't on my side…".
Things were not turning out and in March 2000, Anelka asked the club for a meeting to discuss the situation. He ended up being relegated to the subs' bench. "I scored a goal (against Barcelona) and I was really happy. I din't play well in the next game then found myself out of the team. I turned up at training and said: 'We need to talk'. They replied: 'After the session'; I refused and wanted to sort it out before training. But they were insistent, 'No, later'. I didn't like their reaction and thought if they can be rude then so can I. I had a street attitude, I wasn't a pushover". So Anelka went on strike until President Lorenzo Sanz agreed to sit down and talk things through with him. "The president called me to a meeting. We spoke for a while and he said: 'You'd better show up for training tomorrow'. I replied: 'We'll see what happens tomorrow'. They blamed everything on me, when all I wanted was to be left alone and focus on my football, show that I had talent and could play for a club like Madrid". Anelka didn't turn up at the Ciudad Deportiva the following day and was hit with a 45-day suspension without pay and missed 12 games.
Winning the Champions League and regrets
Looking back, Nico, acknowledges that he too made mistakes during his time at Real Madrid and regrets not contributing more to the team although he did redeem himself with many people with his wonderful header against a very tough Bayern side in the Champions League semi-final - a vital away goal which put the team into the final. "I helped Madrid to win the Octava. I'm proud of that. I hardly contributed anything to Real Madrid. I would have liked to have given them more but I didn't get the chance to. I didn't do things well either. A lot of things happened. I have many regrets. I wanted to play for Real Madrid but I was too young to understand that to so that, you need to make sacrifices. There were things I shouldn't have said or done but when you are doing things for the first time, you don't know any better. It was at the start of my career and maybe it was too soon for me. I didn't know how to value it. I didn't know then that I would never win the Champions League again. When you get to 30, you know what it means. You understand that it's the Champions League and you treat it in a different way".
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