Anelka: Misunderstood (2020)

It’s hard to feel sorry for ‘Anelka: Misunderstood’ (2020)

Celebrity documentaries and series have been streaming during the pandemic, flooding our devices and probably our psyches too. The problem is that, there are only so many best-in-the-world sport celebrities. After you get through the stories of what made Ronaldo or Messi great, you fall to the coulda-wouldas, the guys who “coulda been a contender” — if only, if only.

Known as Anelka: L’incompris in France, the documentary Anelka: Misunderstood is a Netflix Original. In front of a friendly camera, Nicolas Anelka explains his side of the major controversial incidents in his life: misunderstandings that misshaped and limited his career. To give his versions more credibility, there are interviews with some of his friends, top players like Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba, who vouch for, I don’t know, Anelka’s likability?

Interviews with Arsène Wenger are interesting as he discusses the difficulties typical of a player coming to a foreign country at 16 and expecting immediate stardom.

But when I listen to Anelka’s versions of incidents, I end up reading between the lines. It’s easy to see that Anelka is highly competitive, impatient, and resolute in seeing the world with himself as the cynosure. It’s easy to guess that he is a complete jerk amongst us normal humans.

But at the same time, I realize that Anelka was unfortunate to have been maybe 10 years too early. He played for France at a time when the French Federation was trying to reduce the number of Black players on the National team and the country marginalized Muslims. Anelka gives his version of the controversy at WC 2010, and it sounds like the media screwed him, with the support of his Federation.

Black Lives didn’t Matter then

How would Anelka’s arrogance have been perceived had he been White? With what we have learned from #BlackLivesMatter, we need to recognize that systemic racism probably played a part in Anelka’s failure to reach his maximum potential.

The direct comparison could be Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another arrogant complete jerk almost the same age. Zlatan is also a tremendous talent, but compared to Anelka, the Zlat has the advantage of a very good sense of humor. Zlatan can manipulate social media and when he played in MLS, he made villains almost lovable. Perhaps even a sense of humor could not have propelled Anelka past the systemic racism of that time.

In Conclusion

I found it intriguing that Netflix credits Franck Nataf as the film’s Director; he says he has photographed Anelka for years. However, most websites list Éric Hannezo as Director (Netflix lists him as an Executive Producer). In my 300+ reviews, I have never seen this kind of conflict before, and I’m unsure what it means.

All that being said, I never followed Anelka, and I don’t recommend this movie. It’s hard to hear 94 minutes of excuses from someone you don’t know or don’t care about. It’s also hard to care about the career regrets of someone who made millions from the game and is living comfortably in Dubai. I’m sure that Anelka fans would feel differently. 

4 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 4