Serie A leaders Juventus have signed Nicolas Anelka on loan until the end of the season, but does the Frenchman still have what it takes to help the Italian champions, asks Ben Lyttleton.
Since the winter break, Juventus have dropped seven points in four league games and seen their lead at the top whittled down from seven to three points. Their latest slip, a 1-1 home draw with Genoa, ended contentiously after away defender Andreas Granqvist struck the ball against his own arm late on, with Juve stunned that no penalty was awarded.
Juve general manager Beppe Marotta inflamed the situation by claiming referee Marco Guida didn't give the penalty "because he's from Naples," with Napoli closing the gap with a 2-1 win at Parma. After last week's dream week for Juve, who beat Udinese 4-0 and saw no other team in the top six win, this weekend was a similar story: Lazio lost to Chievo, Inter drew with Torino and only Napoli won; with Juve also dropping points, the chasing pack are making it easy for them. Juve have moved out slightly to 1.4640/85 to win Serie A, with second-placed Napoli 4.47/2.
Juventus moved to address one of the weaknesses in their squad last week, by signing two strikers: the first was Fernando Llorente, who will join as a free agent in the summer from Athletic Bilbao. They could have done with him now: even though ten different scorers have managed more than one league goal for them this season, their top scorer Fabio Quagliarella has scored seven.
In the short-term, Juventus have signed another forward, Nicolas Anelka, on a five-month deal to run until the end of the season. "It can be a good move for the short-term, then at the end of the season we'll evaluate what must be done," said Marotta. "He is filling a hole. It is a five-month contract with an option for the second season, if things go well."
The deal has been met with raised eyebrows in Italy and France: Anelka is seen as the enfant terrible of French football and, after PSG, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester City, Fenerbahce, Bolton, Chelsea and Shanghai Shenhua, Juventus will be his tenth club. "I'm delighted to be here and motivated to play," said Anelka after his medical on Sunday.
"Anelka moving to Juventus is a real mystery for me," said French pundit Jean-Michel Larque. "Is he there for the money (said to be worth €600,000, with up €700,000 more available in bonuses) or to finish his career at the top level? I hope it's the latter. But he is not a striker: the last time he played there was with the France team at the 2010 World Cup. His club record does not suggest he is a great scorer: he's hardly Ronaldo, Messi or Romario."
Anelka did average 18 goals per season in a three-year spell at Chelsea from 2008-2011 but in the last 18 months, he has only scored four goals in 39 games (24 of which were for new club Shanghai Shenhua).
For a short-term signing, it seems strange that Juventus have signed someone who has not played for a month and will need time to build up his fitness. However, far from being the 'bad apple' by which he is so often portrayed, Anelka won't cause trouble in the dressing-room. "His image of being anti-social has counted against him," Emmanuel Petit, said his former team-mate at Arsenal and France.
"All the stories about him since his time at Real Madrid worked against him and led to all sorts of misconceptions," added Bernard Diomede, another ex-France colleague. "For way too long people had a false image of who he really is. You'll never have any problem with him. He's the kind to take blows but to never respond."
For Anelka, this is another opportunity to repeat his Champions League success in Madrid. He might not be fit enough to take part in the Celtic tie in a fortnight, for which Juventus are 1.855/6 to win, but he could yet play a role in the Italian leaders' quest for Europe. Juventus are 13.012/1 - with his former clubs PSG 30.029/1 and Arsenal 40.039/1 - to win the Champions League. Anelka could be the man to provide a twist in the tale.