Nicolas Anelka is facing a substantial ban as the Football Association set about appointing a QC to oversee a three-man disciplinary panel to rule on his quenelle salute and whether, if there are antisemitic connotations, it should warrant a longer punishment than those meted out to Luis Suárez and John Terry for previous offences.
Anelka is expected to contest the FA’s charge despite being informed by West Bromwich Albion that he will have to pay his own legal fees if he intends to fight the case. The FA’s findings have been delivered in a 34-page report charging him with making a gesture that was “abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper”.
The FA has taken extensive legal advice, as well as guidance from France, before concluding that Anelka’s goal celebration at West Ham United on 28 December ought to be a matter for disciplinary action. Around 99% of the FA’s cases are subsequently proven and, unless Anelka is the exception, he can also expect a heavy fine for his show of support for Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, the comedian who brought the gesture to prominence and is now banned from public appearances in France.
If the case is proved, a minimum five-game ban would automatically follow because of the new FA guidelines surrounding Rule E3, when the alleged offence is aggravated by “a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief”. It would also go against Anelka that he has not offered any form of apology, or an admission that he was in the wrong copying a gesture that has become synonymous with antisemitism.
Approaching 35, Anelka would not get the benefit of the doubt that might be afforded to a much younger player. Suárez was banned for eight matches for racially abusing Patrice Evra, and Terry was suspended for four matches because of his comments to Anton Ferdinand, and in both cases there is a feeling among senior FA figures that the punishments were too lenient.
Anelka has until 6pm on Thursday to respond to the charge, although there is a chance he might ask for an extension to that deadline. After that the FA is determined to hold the case within the next few weeks, acutely aware of the criticism from the anti-racism group Kick It Out that it has taken too long reaching this stage. There is still, however, the possibility of an appeal dragging it later into what is almost certainly going to be Anelka’s final season in English football.
Dieudonné has been prosecuted by the French government for insulting the memory of Holocaust victims, and Anelka’s quenelle has already led to West Brom’s shirt sponsors, Zoopla, co-owned by the Jewish businessman Alex Chesterman, announcing that it will not renew its £3m-a-year agreement this summer.
“If Nicolas Anelka is found guilty of a racial offence, then he deserves everything he gets,” Alan Cleverley, the secretary of the West Bromwich Albion Official Supporters Club, said. “It sounds as if he did it on purpose because he knew the match was being shown live in France. If the book gets thrown at him, I’ve got no sympathy whatsoever.”
Anelka has received support, however, from Romelu Lukaku. “He’s been my idol since I was a kid; he still is,” Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, told Everton’s website. “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 later removed the interview and their director of communications, Alan Myers, said: “It is the player’s opinion and not the opinion held by the club. The last thing we want to do is cause offence to anyone.”
Kick It Out remains unhappy that the FA has taken almost a month to charge Anelka. A statement said: “The FA has previously demonstrated its commitment to taking effective and swift action to deal with all forms of abusive conduct in football, and has spent a longer time than desirable in order to give careful consideration to the allegations made in this case.
“Kick It Out awaits Anelka’s response to the charge before making any further comment. The campaign hopes that this matter can now be quickly concluded.”