Nicolas Anelka’s future in English football is on the line after the West Brom striker requested a personal hearing into his now infamous ’quenelle’ salute.
Anelka faces the Football Association’s disciplinary commission after deciding to contest a charge he made an abusive, indecent, insulting or improper gesture during Albion’s game at West Ham on December 28.
The Frenchman faces a minimum five-match ban if found guilty as the FA further allege the offence to be an aggravated breach given the potential reference to ethnic origin, race, religion or belief.
A lengthy suspension, however, could force Anelka to quit the game in England altogether bearing in mind he only signed a one-year contract last summer with the Baggies, who have an additional year’s option in their favour.
The 34-year-old’s love-hate relationship with the English game is well documented as he has ruffled feathers at Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.
From their perspective, if Anelka is punished, it is unlikely Albion would agree to take up the option given the furore he has caused, and bearing in mind he also turns 35 in March.
For the FA, the case is a minefield as it is mired in French politics and beliefs, resulting in them hiring an independent expert to assess the symbolism of the ’quenelle’ before laying down the charge.
The man behind the salute, French comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, believes Anelka should be allowed to continue to perform the gesture as it signifies his liberation from slavery.
Dieudonne and Anelka have strongly denied the gesture has any anti-Semitic or racist connotations, and instead is effectively an ’up yours’ to the French establishment.
Dieudonne, a friend of Anelka, told Sky News: “The ’quenelle’ salute, it’s simply a salute.
“At the beginning, an insult, a little like this. I’m not sure how you do it in England (placing his left hand on his right arm and then raising the latter with a clenched fist).
“In France it means simply a gesture against the system, and then after time it became a gesture of emancipation. Many Africans like me, descendants of slaves, it’s for self-liberation.”
Performing the ’quenelle’ by placing an upturned left hand across his right bicep, Dieudonne added: “That means liberation from a system, and it’s because of that Nicolas Anelka did it.
“It’s a gesture against submission to a system, a gesture belonging to the descendants of slaves who say ’Stop. It’s done. I’m done’. There’s no hint of racism. Racism is a bad thing.”
Dieudonne feels Anelka should not be facing the prospect of sanctions from the FA simply for displaying his beliefs.
“It’s strange because if they (the FA) are independent, if they love football, they should be more interested in what’s happening in the match,” added Dieudonne.
“Anelka is a descendant of slaves and if he wants to remark on his history then he has a right to do so. We are very proud he does that, all of us, because Nicolas Anelka is hope.”