Nicolas Anelka has launched a determined defence of his character and denied he has anti-Semitic leanings following his sacking by West Brom.
The French striker was fined by a Football Association-appointed independent panel and handed a five-match ban for the ‘quenelle’ goal celebration he performed after scoring for the Baggies at West Ham on December 28, leading to him being suspended by his club.
Anelka then said on March 14 that he would terminate his contract at West Brom, only for the club to fire him hours later.
The infamous pose that Anelka struck after scoring at Upton Park has been associated with religious intolerance in France, but the former Arsenal and Real Madrid player insisted throughout the investigation into his actions that it was merely a show of support for his friend Dieudonne M’bala M’bala.
Known as Dieudonne, Anelka’s friend is a French comedian who has been convicted seven times of anti-Semitic crimes. He is credited with inventing the quenelle.
The independent regulatory commission that handed Anelka his punishment accepted there was no intent by the player to be anti-Semitic.
Anelka, now 35, is determined mud should not stick to his name, or to the gesture which he believes remains a valid expression of rebellion against authority.
Anelka told French publication Metronews: “My quenelle has been very badly interpreted. It was a dedication to my friend Dieudonne. In August, I had paused in the moment of celebrating a goal between doing the quenelle or imitating the gesture of Kaaris (a French rapper). I chose Kaaris. And therefore, this time it was the day for the quenelle.”
Had Anelka chosen to perform the quenelle in August, he might not have lasted until March at the Hawthorns.
He has observed the criticism that has come his way, but questions the awareness of those judging him.
“It’s fine to say that I’m anti-Semitic and racist. Still you need proof,” Anelka said.
“I have no racist or anti-Semitic history, therefore (there is) no evidence, even suspicion of evidence.
“Oh yes, I read that I was converted to Islam. That’s a very fast short cut. But I have a question: why should I think about the Jewish community when I score a goal? I have never had a problem with it and, anyway, why would I?
“So many questions and no answer. At some point, we have to stop being paranoid and believe we are all at war. The people who have made these big statements don’t know my life or who I frequent with.
“Who can decide that the quenelle is anti-Semitic or racist, other than its inventor?
“When I ask Dieudo, he clearly says it’s not. Under the pretext that some people have reproduced this gesture in front of a synagogue, does this gesture become automatically anti-Semitic and racist regardless of the place and situation? Sorry, but I don’t swallow that. I try to swallow it but it doesn’t go down.
“So if I understand correctly, all priests are paedophiles and all Muslims are terrorists? For me, it’s the same principle. If that continues, the people who decide the quenelle is racist will soon ban us from eating pineapples.
“The gesture shouldn’t cause offence. It is condemnable in front of a synagogue, yes, just like all other bizarre signs that you could do in front of one, but that’s all. In that case, to say it’s a vulgar gesture, effectively, I agree with you.
“There was no religious thought on my part. And I have never said that my gesture was against the system, simply that the gesture was. Again, I’m not racist, not anti-Semitic, and the quenelle was a simple tribute.”
Anelka believes Dieudonne has wider support than many think.
“The tribunal asked if he was still my friend, and I replied ‘Yes, of course’. He’s a humorist, not a politician. He’s the best in France, for me,” Anelka said.
“There are many people who think the same but, in fear of losing their job or something else, they worry about saying so. It’s not easy to support someone who has been public enemy number one.”