The West Brom striker was charged by English football's governing body for his 'quenelle' celebration against West Ham and faces at least a five-game ban for his actions
By James Goldman
After a near month-long investigation it is to be hoped that the Football Association has been able to comprehend the severity of Nicolas Anelka’s actions and is in a position to demonstrate that its zero tolerance policy on racism is indeed just that.
In the interests of honesty and full disclosure, before Anelka opened his goalscoring account for West Bromwich Albion against West Ham on December 28 I had never heard of the ‘quenelle’.
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Of course, bringing the ‘quenelle’ into the mainstream, affording it a certain notoriety and fame also represents Anelka’s biggest crime, one for which he should receive the severest of sporting punishments.
While the actions of John Terry and Luis Suarez caused offence far beyond the immediate targets of their insults, Anton Ferdinand and Patrice Evra, their crimes were not performed openly in front of an enormous global audience, as Anelka did.
To suggest that one act of racism is deserving of a greater sentence than another is a dangerous road to travel down. Although the FA has introduced new rules which stipulate that a five-match ban is the minimum for this kind of offence, it still has scope to add additional matches. In any case, Suarez was given an eight-match sanction before the rules were introduced. That should be the starting point here.
Anelka’s initial defence – he claimed to be merely supporting his friend Dieudonne, the French comedian who invented the ‘quenelle’ and is banned from performing in certain cities in his own country due to his extreme right-wing views – displays an ignorance that simply cannot be tolerated, nor accepted as a form of justification. His employers should not escape scrutiny or criticism, either.
While their then-caretaker manager Keith Downing can be excused for, in the immediate aftermath of the incident, dismissing it as “complete nonsense” that Anelka had been guilty of any wrongdoing, West Brom’s continued silence on the matter represents an enormous missed opportunity and confirmation that football has learned little from the damaging Suarez and Terry sagas.
Clumsily worded statements acknowledging that “offence had been caused in some quarters” might be one thing, but a failure to offer up anything resembling a coherent apology subsequently, while unflinchingly standing by their man, is another entirely.
While, mercifully, there have been no Suarez-style t-shirts, West Brom have been guilty of painting Anelka as the victim, just as Liverpool were when they adopted the same stance with their Uruguayan striker.
Though it should not make an iota of difference, Liverpool’s position was complicated by the fact they were attempting to protect a multi-million pound asset, one who they clearly felt, however flawed their theories, had done no wrong.
Chelsea, too, faced a similar dilemma with Terry who, in any case, was unable to go under football’s microscope before the courts had dealt with him, and ultimately in his favour. By contrast Anelka has no deep connection with West Brom.
He is gun for hire, a nomad entering the final stages of his career. Why have West Brom been so hesitant, so unwilling to accept there might be a bigger issue, one more important than three Premier League points?
It is all so depressingly familiar and that is why the FA must punish Anelka with unprecedented force and conviction. Is Anelka anti-Semitic? One can only hope that is not the case but it is important to remember it is not the FA’s job to prove this one way or the other.
Unequivocally it is their task to ensure the ‘quenelle’ gesture or the sort of anti-Semitic remarks that have flooded social media sites in recent weeks are eradicated from the game entirely.
To prove they are serious about doing so they must ensure Anelka does not grace a Premier League pitch for a very, very long time if ever again.