St. Louis signs Anelka ... no, not that one - The Province

BY MARC WEBER

New coach: Expansion team hires Claude Anelka to be head coach; faces Whitecaps Saturday

Midway through a phone interview on Thursday, as AC St. Louis was departing their hotel to face the Portland Timbers, head coach Claude Anelka asked for a moment, then yelled to his team: "Passports! IDs!"

It has been a challenging and slightly bizarre introduction to USSF D-2 soccer for Anelka, the older brother of well-known Chelsea and France striker Nicolas.

In his debut at the helm of the expansion side on April 10, Anelka had a rare pre-game decision to make: start with 10 men until one of his better player's ID was retrieved from the hotel, or make a switch in the starting lineup and lose the ability to bring said player in as a substitute.

Anelka chose the former. Carolina scored four minutes in and won 2-0.

"It never happened to me before," said Anelka, 42, who has spent the past five years coaching at academy soccer in Miami.

"I guess next time I'll be able to make a better decision."

Anelka is not shy about admitting he has much to learn. And much to prove.

Aside from being brother and former agent to Nicolas -- whose 90-million pounds in transfers are second only to Cristiano Ronaldo -- Claude is best known for a 2004 coaching stint with Scottish side Raith Rovers that British papers describe as "disastrous" and "shambolic."

Anelka, with essentially no experience, reportedly offered the club an investment of around 300,000 pounds if they took him on. His Rovers earned a single point in eight matches and that experiment died a quick and bitter death.

"Of course I think about it still," Anelka said. "But there is nothing I can do about this. I just have to move on. Of course this is a possibility to prove something to people, definitely. It will take time, but I'm confident."

The St. Louis soccer community has received the team well. The opener was a sellout of almost 6,000 fans.

AC St. Louis chairman Jeff Cooper-- the man who tried to bring MLS to that city -- has said he doesn't care about Anelka's past, and Anelka appears to be surrounded by good people.

Midfielder Steve Ralston, a veteran of more than 400 MLS regular-season and playoff games, is also serving as assistant coach. And Francisco Filho, a former Manchester United academy director, is serving a dual role as director of player development and assistant coach.

Filho was a former youth instructor for the French Football Federation when Nicolas Anelka was there, and he and Claude have been friends for 15 years. They were a package deal.

"I need to learn from him and to understand more things in soccer," Anelka said.

Another lesson will likely come Saturday in Vancouver as the Whitecaps host an AC St. Louis side that is without Ralston for two more weeks, and still waiting on a pair of Brazilians to arrive.

One thing he's perhaps learned from his Scottish experience is not to make bold predictions.

"Right now, I'm kind of in the dark," he said of his squad.

"When we have a full team, I'll be able to tell you. Every new franchise doesn't do well the first year, so maybe we won't, maybe we will. Right now, we try to do what we can and we are working hard."

mweber@theprovince.com

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1 A French kiss for Caps' defence

If he's as good in games as he is in training, Caps' fans are in for a treat tonight with the debut of French centreback Mouloud Akloul. He's tall, quick, vocal, aggressive, composed, confident and great on the ball. Other than that, nothing to write home about.

2 The tale of a talented Bellisomo

It's difficult to tire of Luca Bellisomo's story. The patient and poised 23-year-old waited and waited for his chance at centreback last season, then started every playoff game. Now he's started the Caps' first two games in central midfield, ahead of an all-star. Can it continue?

3 Haber's back, but for how long?

Last year's fan favourite and league rookie of the year Marcus Haber makes his home debut after joining the Caps on a two-month loan from English side West Bromwich Albion. The 21-year-old Vancouverite has a brief window to create some more fond memories for the locals.
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