West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka faces a lengthy ban after being charged by the Football Association on Tuesday over an allegedly anti-Semitic salute.
The 34-year-old French striker performed the ‘quenelle’ salute, putting one arm across his chest and straightening the other, during West Brom’s 3-3 draw at West Ham United in the Premier League last month.
“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 December 28, 2013,” read a statement published on the FA website.
The FA said that Anelka had made a gesture that was “abusive and/or indecent and/or insulting and/or improper” and included “a reference to ethnic origin and/or race and/or religion or belief”.
Anelka has until 6pm GMT (10pm UAE) on Thursday to respond to the charge and if found guilty he faces a minimum five-game suspension under new anti-discrimination measures introduced by the FA in May last year.
An independent three-person commission will be appointed to deal with the case, which will be decided by a disciplinary hearing if Anelka contests the charge.
The FA revealed earlier this month that it was working with “an appointed expert” to investigate the matter.
The ‘quenelle’, popularised by French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, has been described by critics in France as an inverted Nazi salute, but Anelka has insisted that it was merely “a dedication” to the comic.
M’bala M’bala, better known simply as Dieudonne, has been prosecuted for anti-Semitism in France, but he says the salute is merely an anti-establishment gesture.
The FA’s decision to charge Anelka, after a three-and-a-half-week investigation, comes a day after West Brom’s shirt sponsors, property website Zoopla, decided to end their association with the club.
“In recent weeks we have decided to re-evaluate this sponsorship and as a result we will focus our attention on other marketing activities from the end of the season,” said Lawrence Hall, Zoopla’s head of communications.
The deal was reportedly worth £3 million (Dh17.99m) over two years, but West Brom said that they had already been planning to find a new sponsor.
British media reports suggested the company had called on West Brom to drop Anelka over the affair.
The former France international has continued to appear for the club despite the furore and played for 77 minutes in his side’s 1-1 draw with Everton on Monday.
Speaking after the game, West Brom’s new Spanish coach, Pepe Mel, said that he had no qualms about continuing to select Anelka.
“I don’t know. I am only head coach,” Mel told Sky Sports when asked about the affair.
“He is a good personality. He needs a goal and he will work for me very well.”
Anelka has agreed to a request from West Brom not to repeat the salute, following a wave of criticism in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
French sports minister Valerie Fourneyron condemned the gesture as “shocking” and “sickening”, while the European Jewish Congress called for Anelka to face the same punishment that would be handed down for a Nazi salute.
More recently, British anti-racism organisation Kick It Out has criticised the FA for the time it was taking to bring the affair to a conclusion.
Anelka, who converted to Islam in 2004, has had a chequered playing career, having notably been sent home from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after clashing with France coach Raymond Domenech.
He was subsequently handed an 18-match ban by the French Football Federation.
Nicknamed ‘Le Sulk’ in the British media due to his surly on-pitch demeanour, he has played for a total of 11 clubs, including European giants Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea.