Nicolas Anelka has been charged by the Football Association on Tuesday morning over his “quenelle” gesture that has attracted controversy for its anti-Semitic connotations and will face a long-term ban if found guilty.
The West Brom striker is facing a minimum five-match ban under new FA rules after the gesture, which some say is an inverted Nazi salute and has anti-Semitic connotations despite Anelka's explanation that he meant nothing that was racially aggravated by his goal celebration.
Anelka has been charged with making an improper gesture and that it was an aggravated breach, in that it included "a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief."
The FA said in a statement: "The FA has charged the West Bromwich Albion player Nicolas Anelka following an incident that occurred during the West Ham United versus West Bromwich Albion fixture at the Boleyn Ground on 28 December 2013.
"It is alleged that, in the 40th minute of the fixture, Anelka made a gesture which was abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper, contrary to FA Rule E3.
"It is further alleged that this is an aggravated breach, as defined in FA Rule E3, in that it included a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief."
Anelka has until 6pm on Thursday to respond to the charge.
The pressure was already on Anelka, who played 76 minutes of West Bromwich Albion’s 1-1 draw with Everton on Monday night, over the “quenelle” saga when the club’s sponsor Zoopla, a property market search engine, announced it would not be renewing its shirt deal in the summer over the episode.
Asked how the “quenelle” row had affected Anelka and his decision to play him, the new Albion coach Pepe Mel said: “I’m sorry, I’m only the head coach.” He described the striker’s performance as “very good, he’s a good personality.”
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Anelka has refused to apologise, claiming that the “quenelle” was a gesture in support of its creator, his friend the French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, who has a record of anti-Semitic comments. However, the FA’s compliance department has spent the last 24 days since the incident in West Bromwich’s game against West Ham investigating the background to the “quenelle” and is convinced that Anelka should be charged under both parts of its rule E3.
The first part of the E3 rule refers to “insulting words or behaviour” and the second part, which carries a minimum five-game ban, covers offences with “reference to any one or more of a person’s ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability”.
Anelka has been charged by the FA, which effectively acts as the prosecutor in these cases. He has three days to respond, either accepting the charges or stating his intention to fight them. In either case a three-man independent regulatory commission will be convened. If Anelka accepts the charge, the commission will decide the length of his ban.
The commission members are drawn from pools of individuals with experience in different areas, endorsed by the clubs at the start of the season, including former players and managers. The chairman is ordinarily a QC. Given the sensitivity of this incident, the FA will have poured resources into building its case and have consulted with Jewish groups to assess the response in the British Jewish community to the “quenelle”.
Anelka’s response on Twitter in the aftermath of the incident, that the controversy around the gesture was a media invention and that people should not try to read meaning into it, is likely to remain his case with the FA. Anelka has said that the gesture was for his friend Dieudonné, who faced a ban from the French government for his one-man show. It had emerged on 28 December, the day in question.
In Pictures: West Brom v Everton
In Pictures: West Brom v Everton
1/7 West Brom v Everton
Romelu Lukaku attempts an overhead kick
2/7 West Brom v Everton
New West Brom manager Pepe Mel shares a joke with Everton forward Romelu Lukaku after the match
3/7 West Brom v Everton
West Brom keeper Ben Foster is beaten by a shot from Gareth Barry of Everton; the goal, however, was not given
4/7 West Brom v Everton
West Bromwich Albion's Irish defender Steven Reid falls to the ground as he challenges Everton's Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku
5/7 West Brom v Everton
West Bromwich Albion players celebrate scoring the equalising goal during their match against Everton
6/7 West Brom v Everton
Nicolas Anelka, centre, eyes the ball
7/7 West Brom v Everton
West Bromwich Albion's Nicolas Anelka controls the ball
Given the precedent around E3, particularly in the case of Luis Suarez, the intention behind Anelka’s gesture is unlikely to affect any potential decision by the commission. Its job is not to decide the intent behind it but gauge the objective offensiveness of the “quenelle”. A ban seems inevitable for the French striker, who turns 35 in March.
Anelka is contracted to West Bromwich only until June. The club have not made any explicit defence of him, save a muddled justification by then caretaker manager, Keith Downing, in the immediate aftermath of the incident. There are suggestions that they would have preferred the player to apologise.
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On Monday Zoopla, co-owned by the Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman, issued a statement that it would not be renewing its £3m sponsorship deal. The statement read: “Zoopla has been reviewing its position over the past few weeks in light of the actions of striker, Nicolas Anelka, during the match against West Ham... and has decided to focus its attention on other marketing activities after this season.”
A short statement on Albion’s website on Monday night said: “West Bromwich Albion has been fully aware since the sponsorship agreement came into force in June 2012 that its partnership with Zoopla could expire this summer and therefore has been planning accordingly.”