Anelka: Misunderstood review – the life of a controversial talented footballer

By Daniel Hart
Published: August 5, 2020 (Last updated: January 21, 2024)
Netflix documentary film Anelka: Misunderstood


Anelka: Misunderstood has a fine balance on the man himself, while also including nostalgic footage of great footballing moments.

Netflix documentary film Anelka: Misunderstood was released on the platform on Aug 6, 2020.

As someone who watches a lot of football, I feel I missed the critical period of Nicolas Anelka’s diva lifestyle. As I watched Anelka: Misunderstood, I certainly did not remember the famous player walking out of Real Madrid training and refusing to play; that hefty fine must have made the headlines back in the day.

The Netflix documentary details Anelka’s career — the highs, the lows, and the downright outrageous. Its strength is its honesty. There are plenty of head-in-hands movements in Anelka: Misunderstood but it’s backed up by the man himself, taking an interview and admitting his feelings and intentions at the time. This is a worthwhile football documentary that will relive a time many may have forgotten.

Anelka: Misunderstood seems to suggest that the root of Anelka’s problems is that he knew how good at the sport he was and it moved him too quickly up the ranks. Being a French footballer comes with pressure and expectations, and the Netflix documentary goes back to the start; a young, vibrant, and hopeful young football about to embark on his “best life”. But like any ‘best life”, you can hit the heights too soon, you become the product of what you wanted to become. The Justin Bieber/Miley Cyrus effect happens way too often.

The reason why Anelka: Misunderstood works is because the footballer has clearly shown growth off the pitch. On the pitch, his talents were clear. In the documentary he has managed to present himself with integrity; a man that has a loving family and different priorities in his life. It’s his documentary — he is a commentator of his life rather than a dull-toned narrator telling the audience what had happened.

As part of the documentary process, players and managers contribute to hail and discuss the football star; Arsene Wenger blushes on how talented the player was when he took him on at Arsenal. Paul Pogba and others describe their admiration for Nicolas Anelka. How, for some, he was a role model but for others a pain in the ar*se. Netflix’s Anelka: Misunderstood has a fine balance on the man himself, while also including nostalgic footage of great footballing moments that will surely be remembered — for example, France winning the World Cup or Arsenal catching Manchester United in a heated title race.

It’ll be difficult for anyone not interested in football to find this documentary engaging. It certainly requires an interest before playing the 90-minute feature. But there’s no denying it’s well-made with meticulous care for the subject; it’s not a fan-feature, it’s an honest, weighted documentary with an honest Nicolas Anelka at the fore. Anelka: Misunderstood is a must-watch documentary if you are interested in the sport.

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