Atletico Mineiro president Alexander Kalil announced the signing of former France forward Nicolas Anelka on Twitter last Sunday night. Despite the 35-year-old being almost hounded out of England following his “quennelle” gesture at the end of December, the arrival of a player of his calibre is an encouraging move for the reigning Libertadores champions.
Anelka is a striker of international renown. He has spent time at some of the biggest clubs on the planet and has appeared in one World Cup and two European Championships.
His last two outings in domestic football, an ill-advised jaunt to China with Shanghai Shenhua and a disastrous spell in the Premier League with West Bromwich Albion, may have irreparably damaged his reputation in Europe. But the former Arsenal, Real Madrid and Chelsea striker can nevertheless add to the Brazilian club's attacking repertoire.
Already boasting the likes of Ronaldinho, Jo, Diego Tardelli and Fernandinho, Anelka's predatory instincts may force coach Paulo Autuori to switch from his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
Selecao striker Jo spearheads the offensive quarter with his three teammates playing off him, Tardelli in particular, getting forward whenever possible.
Jo was the leading scorer in last year's Copa Libertadores with seven goals; Tardelli was second on the list with six. The latter is the player who has lent the most support to Jo as a loan frontman, both under Cuca last year and now under Autuori's stewardship.
The signing of Anelka gives the current boss options, however. He opens up the possibility of playing a more conventional 4-4-2, or in Brazil, what is more likely to resemble a 4-2-2-2 with four offensive-minded players slotted into formation.
Anelka has already experienced playing alongside Atletico's biggest draw, Ronaldinho. The pair were at Paris Saint-German together in 2001 and 2002.
And according to Globo Esporte (via World Soccer Talk), part of the attraction of joining the Belo Horizonte outfit was a reunion with the two-time World Player of the Year.
Now in the twilight of their careers, Ronaldinho has recovered after a turbulent spell at Rio de Janeiro outfit Flamengo. As for the Frenchman, Anelka has the chance to go after South American silverware, notably, Atletico's bid to defend their Libertadores title in what for him is undiscovered territory.
Atletico have successfully negotiated their passage to the knock-out phase of the Copa Libertadores. No side have won successive titles since Boca Juniors in 2000 and 2001. Anelka arrives with a fresh challenge to overcome.
Whether he will be available to play immediately remains to be seen. He was handed a five-game suspension by the English Football Association for the “quennelle” gesture he made at Upton Park during the West Ham versus West Brom match at Upton Park on December 28, as reported by The Guardian.
When he does manage to make it onto a pitch, his experience, sharp movement and attacking prowess could be fundamental for the Minas club. He may not be the world-class prospect of five or six years ago, but his pace and ability in front of goal will add fuel to the entertaining, swashbuckling Atletico fire.
But where to fit him in?
If it is accepted that Anelka and Ronaldinho are to play together, that leaves Jo, Tardelli and Fernandinho vying for two spots.
Jo and Tardelli are enjoying a fruitful understanding in attack, meaning the player most under pressure is tricky winger Fernandinho. But omitting the 28-year-old would invariably result in a change of approach.
Anelka has form playing down the channels. He did so at Chelsea with Didier Drogba in a more central role.
And whilst the pace of the game in this corner of the world is slower, testament to the fact Ronaldinho has managed to prolong his career, wide players need to track back against full-backs unafraid to surge forward.
Whether Anelka still has the lungs for that kind of work is questionable, which will probably lead to a central striking role alongside Jo.
As a player who can be frustratingly inconsistent in front of goal, the former France international is the kind of experienced forward the Brazil international can learn from as he moves into the second half of his career.
Arriving at Atletico Mineiro, his 12th club across seven countries, it might seem baffling that Anelka, for all his talent, still has something to prove. His baggage is well documented, but after an unhappy year, he has the opportunity to demonstrate he is far from washed up.
Brazil is a clean slate. Atletico can be his saving grace.
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