France coach Raymond Domenech's decision to hand Nicolas Anelka an international recall three and a half years after he last turned out for his country has been greeted with widespread approval in various corners of Europe.
The Fenerbahçe SK striker won the last of his 28 caps in a goalless draw with Russia in April 2002. But the 26-year-old was rewarded for his impressive form in Turkey and in the UEFA Champions League when Domenech included him in his squad for friendlies against Costa Rica on Wednesday and Germany on Saturday.
'An immense surprise'
Anelka has often courted controversy by making comments on his prolonged international absence, and many felt his France days were behind him. Indeed, sports daily L'Equipe described Anelka's comeback as "an immense surprise", adding: "It may have stemmed from Domenech's desire to prove he has no blacklist - or perhaps he simply wants to help a player who was once a great hope get back on track."
In November 2002, Anelka received a late call-up by then coach Jacques Santini following an injury to Sidney Govou. The former Real Madrid CF player turned down the invitation, saying he did not regard himself as a "reserve for a reserve", and claiming he would only reconsider if Santini "got on his knees and apologised". His relationship with Domenech seemed to have been strained by his remark earlier this year that the coach would not pick him "even if 60,000 players were injured".
'A lot of qualities'
But Domenech made it clear that he judges players by their performances on the pitch. "Nicolas Anelka has a lot of qualities: he can play from deep, he can hold the ball up and he's quick," Domenech said. "Whatever he said, it isn't my problem. I don't read the press."
Anelka, meanwhile, reacted positively to the news and is looking forward to Wednesday's charity game in the Caribbean, organised to raise money for the families of those who lost their lives in a recent plane crash. Anelka, who like many France players has roots in the West Indies, said he would be "honoured" to take part in Les Bleus' first international in the region. "I'm very happy to be involved," he added. "After such a long time out it is a special moment."
The majority of France supporters also appear to be pleased by Anelka's recall. According to a survey carried out by Le Journal de Dimanche, 71 per cent of French people are in favour of Anelka's return, while the decision has been applauded by several players. Juventus striker David Trezeguet, who has pulled out of the trip, said: "I'm pleased, very pleased. He's a footballer of the highest quality. He's had a tough few years, but his talent was never in doubt."
Arsenal FC playmaker Robert Pirès says the inclusion of the former Gunners forward has given him fresh hope of returning after an exile of more than a year. "I'm very happy for Nicolas and I hope to follow his path one day," Pirès said. "Quite simply, his selection has given me a real hope of playing in the World Cup."
Fenerbahçe coach Christophe Daum will have been cheered by the news after promising Anelka he would play for Les Bleus again if he performed well in Istanbul. The Frenchman has scored five goals in ten league matches this term, helping Fenerbahçe top the table, and club president Aziz Yildirim said: "I'm sure he'll do Fenerbahçe proud when he wears the blue of France."
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