Gotta have Raith

What is the easiest route into management? Ask Claude Anelka, who has just bought Scottish First Division side Raith Rovers. Neil White looks at what to expect from the club's new manager/owner/benefactor

A dangerous precedent has been set at Raith Rovers. Where once wealthy investors were content with puppeteering from the boardroom, the Scottish First Division club have let their latest benefactor into the dugout. And this is no ordinary benefactor. This is Claude Anelka, the brother of Nicolas and the man much vilified for his role in brokering the £22 million deal that took his sibling from Arsenal to Real Madrid in 1999. Since then, Claude has flitted between homes in London and Miami, before deciding that true happiness lies in the sleepy Fife town of Kirkcaldy.

Like so many clubs in Scotland, Raith are in dire financial straits. They have sold their stadium, Stark’s Park, and now lease it from a property company. They have hammered out a repayment scheme with existing creditors to keep the wolves from the door, aided by their retention of First Division status for next season.

This, then, is the contradiction at the heart of Anelka’s arrival. He stumped up £320,000 on the condition that he would take charge of football matters for the next two years. The incumbent manager, Antonio Calderón, who had won the Second Division title in his first season in charge and avoided relegation on a shoestring budget in his second, headed back to his native Spain.

Raith need the money, but can they afford to take the risk? Anelka, 32, is a qualified but untested coach and had a promising playing career in the French lower leagues before injury consigned him to a supporting role in the prodigious rise of his younger brother. He has worked with young players in Paris and his first move after taking control at Raith was to sign seven of his former pupils. His next was to tell six out-of-contract players they would not be needed next season. Before the new arrivals set foot in Scotland, the club had one senior player under contract.

“Why Raith? The answer is simple. I have found a good club with good people who believe in me. This is the right place to start my career.”

No sooner had Anelka made that statement than his new club were embroiled in a betting scandal. The Scottish Football League is still investigating the £250,000 in bets placed across the country on Raith’s final match, all cor­rectly pre­dicting a win for relegated Ayr.

On arrival, Anelka also talked of “chasing a dream” and fell into the trap that snared Tony Mowbray, the new manager of Hibs, as well, of claiming that he will narrow the gap on the Old Firm. However, in chasing his dream, Anelka has circumvented the route to the dugout. When he talks about finding the right place to start, does he really mean that he has found a club so desperate for investment that they will let a rookie coach buy his way into the game at a level that hitherto necessitated a lengthy playing career or time served successfully as a manager in the lower leagues?

Meanwhile, the supporters are bewildered, staggering into the new season unsure of what to expect. Jim Foy, chairman of the Raith Rovers supporters’ groups, was stunned by developments at Stark’s Park, but is trying, desperately, to retain optimism ahead of a new season.

“[Anelka] has bought the job and they are prepared to take the risk,” he said. “I have been told that, if it all goes pear-shaped, they want to write him a cheque and send him on his way. But this money isn’t going to be sitting in the bank; it will be spent, so where is this cheque going to come from? However, he deserves to be a given a chance. When we appointed Jimmy Nicholl nobody thought he was a manager and we ended up getting promotion for the first time, winning the League Cup and getting into Europe.”

These are similar to the ambitions held by the new man, but it may take more than £320,000 to realise them. Next season, Raith sup­port­ers find out if Claude Anelka has more than deep pockets, big dreams and a brass neck.

From WSC 209 July 2004. What was happening this month