LONDON: Nicolas Anelka, one of the most unloved footballers ever to play in English football, will fight an FA charge over his ‘quenelle’ goal celebration against West Ham last month.
Anelka, nicknamed ‘The Incredible Sulk’ for his grumpy manner on the pitch and his mercenary gallop through 12 clubs in 16 years, has already hinted that he would not concede his own claim that the gesture was merely a manner of ‘support’ for a friend, the controversial comedian Dieudonne.
West Bromwich have confirmed that the Frenchman will contest the charge which saw become the first player to face disciplinary action over new rules and regulations introduced after the Luis Suarez and John Terry incidents incident in October 2011.
The ‘quenelle’ has been described as an ‘inverted Nazi salute’ and thus anti-semitic.
Liverpool’s Suárez was banned for eight matches for racially abusing M Manchester United’s Patrice Evra while Chelsea captain Terry was suspended for four matches for comments to QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. Both cases aroused concern that the punishments were too lenient.
The 35-year-old would not receive the benefit of any doubt which might go to a younger player and risks heavy punishment because the gesture – though brief – was a ‘public exhibition’ and not a personal exchange as were the Suarez and Terry incidents.
West Brom have refused to take any action pending the FA inquiry so Anelka was picked by new manager Pepe Mel for Monday’s 1:1 draw against Everton. That prompted the club’s sponsor – Zoopla, a Jewish-founded property company – to terminate its £3m club sponsorship at the end of the season.
However the club has told Anelka he will have to pay his own legal fees. The FA took extensive legal advice, as well as guidance from France, before drawing up a 34-page report charging him with making a gesture that was “abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper.”
The gesture was also deemed to be aggravated by connotations of abuse on grounds of ethnicity – in this case anti-semitism.
West Brom fans have little sympathy. Alan Cleverley, secretary of the Official Supporters Club, said: “If Anelka is found guilty of a racial offence, then he deserves everything he gets. It seems he did it on purpose because he knew the match was being shown live in France.”
Anelka received brief support from Romelu Lukaku the Chelsea loanee now at Everton but at West Brom last season.
In a video interview posted on Everton’s website, Lukaku said: “He’s been my idol since I was a kid; he still is. I think he shouldn’t be banned for that. He was supporting a stand-up comedian in France. We don’t have to make such a big deal about it. He’s an adult . . . I hope he doesn’t get suspended because he’s a player people want to see on the pitch.”
Everton acted quickly to remove the video from their website and issue an apology for its content.