Diva. Mercurial. Arrogant. Scorer. Precocious. Genius. None of these accurately describe one of football’s most heralded young stars and notable journeymen, Nicolas Anelka. Netflix’s new documentary guides us through the clubs and controversies of Anelka’s storied career while unravelling the myths and misinformation around the former France international.
He was once the most sought-after young player in the world. He scored more than 150 goals in 500+ appearances for 12 clubs. He has played in La Liga, Ligue 1, and the Premier League, winning multiple league and cup titles. He’s also a European Championship winner with France. And yet, despite these stats, Nicolas Anelka is now more associated with off-field controversies than on-field prowess. Netflix’s latest documentary sets out to right this wrong and take us inside the mind of the football star, giving us his side to a story that, more often than not, was told solely by the world media.
Anelka: Misunderstood recounts Anelka’s rise from a talented street footballer training in the Clairefontaine football academy through to his many European club moves. The film is intercut with scenes from Anelka’s present-day life in Dubai with his young family. While the documentary mostly moves chronologically, it does flash back-and-forth to the most controversial career moments, including devoting the final half-hour to the circus around Anelka’s expulsion from the French national team during the 2010 World Cup. Controversy makes for good viewing; however, the drama for drama’s sake takes away from his most impressive career moments. Additionally, stints in Turkey, China, and India are roundly ignored despite their intrigue as new footballing frontiers.
Anelka: Misunderstood pulls together an impressive cast of former teammates, coaches, and senior club officials to recount their memories of the French striker. From his early days in Paris through to his time with Chelsea, Anelka is praised as an under-appreciated talent whose footballing skills were overshadowed by external circumstances. His on-pitch skills are celebrated with great footage from across his career. In this sense the film is a staple sports documentary, and entertaining viewing for all football fans.
Anelka was decried throughout his career as aloof, haughty, and arrogant. In giving him a platform to tell his story, Anelka: Misunderstood hopes to change people’s perceptions. However, the documentary doesn’t really let us into Anelka’s personal life. Interviews with his family are framed around Anelka the player, rather than Anelka the man. We skim over his early life and his family’s move to Paris for a better life. Despite frequently recounting his family life in Dubai, we don’t see why Anelka settled there and what he does now. We learn all about drives him on the pitch, but it doesn’t fully feed into our perception of what Anelka is really like. His former teammates all say; “who the media says Nico is couldn’t be more different from who really Nico is”. Unfortunately, we never learn who the ‘real’ Nico is, with the documentary seeming more PR-stunt than exposé.
Ultimately the film merely recounts the French star’s dramatic career without really trying to sway the audience to his side of the story. The documentary is intriguing but Anelka remains the same marmite character at the end of it: you love him or hate him.
Anelka: Misunderstood is entertaining but fails to offer new insight into the mind of the enigmatic striker. 6/10.
Catch Anelka: Misunderstood on Netflix today!