Cedric Anselin

Cedric Anselin played with Zinedine Zidane in a UEFA Cup final. So how did he come to paint doors at a caravan site near Lowestoft? Jon Welch investigates

To say Cedric Anselin’s career has been a bit up and down would be a masterpiece of understatement. Aged 18, he played in the same Bordeaux side as Christophe Dugarry, Bixente Lizarazu and Zinedine Zidane, collecting a 1995-96 UEFA Cup runners-up medal.

A decade later you’ll find this softly spoken Frenchman playing in rather more modest company, for King’s Lynn of the Southern Premier League. That might sound like a comedown, but it certainly beats lying alone in a Bolivian hotel room, on the verge of death from malaria. And it definitely has the edge on being too depressed to speak or to leave the house for weeks on end.

Anselin, a skilful, right-sided midfielder, made his debut for Bordeaux in January 1996. Four months later he played in the UEFA Cup final against Bayern Munich. Bordeaux lost 5-1 on aggregate, but Anselin’s runners-up medal remains one of his most treasured possessions. By April 1999, Anselin, a France Under-21 player, had caught the eye of Bruce Rioch, who brought him to Norwich City on loan. Rioch subsequently signed him for £250,000, but his first goal for City – a wonderful 40-yard lob against Oxford United – was to be his last. Although he showed enough flashes of brilliance to make him some fans’ favourite player, his career took a downturn when father-figure Rioch resigned in March 2000.

Anselin didn’t thrive under Rioch’s successor, Bryan Hamilton, and fared even worse under Nigel Worthington, a manager rather keener on grafters than foreign fancy dans. He made no more competitive appearances for City.

Anselin didn’t help his cause by being quoted in the press likening City training sessions to nursery school, comments he now denies making. City released him in July 2001. He had made just 29 appearances in all, and although he admits, “I didn’t do my homework,” he says he’s still puzzled why things did not work out.

Since leaving Carrow Road he’s led a nomadic existence, playing for clubs as diverse as Ross County, Cambridge United and Gravesend & Northfleet. But his strangest move of all came when he signed for Bolivian side Oriente Petrolero. Anselin was appalled and upset by the poverty he saw in a country where losing a match was the signal for fans to riot. There were no showers at the training ground or nets on the goals, and the players didn’t get paid: “Every week it was meeting, meeting, meeting and strike, strike, strike.”

His unhappy spell there came to an end after he was bitten by mosquitoes and contracted malaria, which nearly killed him. When no one from the club came to see how he was, he flew back to Britain, undeterred that the club had retained his passport. Still sick, he moved to Lowestoft to be with his girlfriend Lynsey and her family. Depression set in. Anselin refused to leave the house for weeks at a time or even speak. The turning point came after Lynsey’s father Steve coaxed him into a job as a maintenance man at a nearby caravan site, where a fan once spotted him painting a door.

His confidence returning, Anselin then won himself a place in Cambridge United’s first team under new French boss Hervé Renard on a pay-as-you-play basis. But he played just two games before disaster struck once more. Anselin crashed his car on a Norfolk back road last December. He injured his back, while Lynsey hurt her knee, face and throat. That put paid to his career with The Us, who days later sacked Renard.

Anselin then had a spell with a Greek club, who were impressed but couldn’t offer him a deal. Conference side Gravesend & Northfleet could, but not one attractive enough. Anselin kept up his fitness by turning out for Norwich United of the Ridgeons Premier League, before signing for King’s Lynn in June.

Still only 28, Anselin says he’s happier and more settled than he has been for a long time. The most important lesson he’s learned, he says, is “life is not all about football”. That said, he has worked hard on his fitness and reckons he is a better player than ever.

When Anselin was a trainee at Bordeaux, Zinedine Zidane gave him some advice. “He said, ‘If you have a bad game but do something special in a game, the fans always remember that and not the crap game you have’.” Fans frustrated by Anselin’s often erratic performances are entitled to wonder if he sometimes took those words too literally. Others may question whether this sensitive soul is really cut out for the big, bad world of professional football. Linnets fans will just be hoping both are wrong.

From WSC 224 October 2005. What was happening this month