The sorry tale of Nicolas Anelka’s controversial goal celebration and subsequent disciplinary action by the Football Association and his former employer club, West Bromwich Albion FC, appears to be reaching its final conclusion. But it’s not quite all over yet.
This all kicked off when Anelka made an alleged anti-Semitic quenelle. The quenelle is a hand gesture devised by the French comedian Dieudonné, which he says symbolises anti-establishment but many view to be anti-Semitic and an inverted Nazi salute. There then followed disciplinary proceedings by the FA’s independent regulatory commission based on the tougher anti-discrimination penalties introduced by the FA following the high profile cases involving Luis Suarez and John Terry.
The minimum sanction for an improper conduct offence, which is aggravated where it includes a reference to certain protected characteristics (including ethnic origin, colour, race and religion or belief) is now a five match ban, which can be increased where there are additional aggravating factors.
There is no requirement that the individual intended to discriminate, so the commission did not need to consider whether Anelka is anti-Semitic or intended to promote anti-Semitism, although in its written reasons, the commission commented that it was not satisfied that this was the case based on the evidence before it.
That said, its finding was that the salute was inextricably linked to Dieudonné and, therefore, to anti-Semitism.
The punishment was a five match ban, an £80,000 fine and an order that Anelka attend a compulsory education course.
Anelka was then suspended by West Brom while the club carried out its own internal investigation.
Matters escalated further when, on 14 March 2014, Anelka took to Twitter to announce that he was terminating his contract with West Brom immediately, as he could not accept conditions that had been set by the club for him to rejoin the team.
West Brom responded with its own statement making clear that those conditions included Anelka issuing an apology to the club, its supporters, sponsors and the wider community for the impact and consequences of his gesture, as well as accepting a substantial fine.
As Anelka had not terminated his contract in accordance with its terms, the club’s statement also confirmed that it had treated his actions via social media that evening, together with his conduct in making the quenelle gesture, as gross misconduct and that 14 days’ notice had been served on Anelka to terminate, in accordance with his playing contract.
With Anelka’s employment having been terminated by the club, he is unable to serve the five match ban with West Brom. Keen to ensure that the sanction is applied and upheld, the FA is reported to have written to the world governing body, FIFA, to ask that the ban is served wherever Anelka may go next and that the other sanctions imposed are also be met.
The Club may yet seek to sue on breach of contract, but following Mutu and Matuzalem that may be good money after bad.