Nicolas Anelka: Is Former Chelsea Star the Man to Take West Brom Forward?

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Nicolas Anelka: Is Former Chelsea Star the Man to Take West Brom Forward?
Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

Nicolas Anelka has completed a shock move to West Bromwich Albion, according to the BBC, signing a one-year deal with the Midlands outfit.

Steve Clarke's side put in a series of excellent performances to finish in the top half of the English Premier League last season, and the Scot will be looking to find the right players to build from such a solid platform.

Romelu Lukaku was a standout performer at the Hawthorns last season thanks to his creativity, pace and finishing ability. With the 20-year-old heading back to Chelsea after the culmination of his loan spell, the Baggies needed to secure a high-profile signing to lead the forward line.

Lukaku was their "X-factor" and trump card—a soon-to-be elite player capable of making the difference in any given game. After an early spell on the substitute's bench, the Belgian regained his sharpness and became an instant starter and fan favourite.

A 17-goal haul is remarkably difficult to replace in the current climate without spending big money, and in an effort to become self-sustainable and debt free, chairman Jeremy Peace has largely avoided high-profile deals.

Anelka seems to be the compromise, tasked with replicating the excitement and vigour Lukaku brought under the favourable pretence of a free transfer.

The journeyman striker has taken in spells at Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Juventus to name a few and now claims he wants to finish his career at WBA.

The big question in West Bromwich is whether or not the motivation is there.

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At 34 years of age, he's seen and done it all. He's even been to China, with Shanghai Shenhua, to sample the delights of East Asian football. He says he wants to retire in England, but what does he bring to the table here and now?

His pedigree is unquestioned, while he's always been technically very sound. Smart, intelligent players survive for long periods in the game, and the Frenchman will feel he has a good year left.

But coming off the back of a five-month spell at Juventus, in which he made three substitute appearances and no starts, how willing will he be to put in the hard yards and do the gritty work?

Clarke demands high work rates and good spirit, and it's not often Anelka finds himself plying his trade for a club not right at the top of the game.

This will be a sensible, risk-free signing on West Brom's part: He's a free transfer and they simply don't pay inflated wages. The concern, though, is that Clarke has identified Anelka as his next "X-factor"—if he doesn't succeed, the club cannot improve.

On paper, it remains a coup, regardless of his age, but Anelka will be watched with intrigue by many eagle-eyed fans around the world.

Whether he's the new Lukaku or just the prelude to a bigger and more commanding signing, we cannot be certain. At the very least, the Baggies have secured themselves a very serviceable forward on the cheap.

 

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