West Bromwich Albion head coach Keith Downing has said claims forward Nicolas Anelka made an anti-Semitic gesture during the 3-3 draw with West Ham United are “absolute rubbish.”
Anelka scored twice during Saturday’s match on his first start for two months, but his display has been overshadowed by claims he performed a ‘quenelle’ salute when celebrating his first.
The gesture, which was made famous by French comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, has been linked to anti-Semitism. Roger Cukierman, head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), described it as “the Nazi salute in reverse” after complaining to French President Francois Hollande about it last week.
Dieudonne, who is half-French and half-Cameroonian, is currently at the centre of controversy, with France’s Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, having said the country is trying to ban his performances as a result of his perceived attacks on Jewish people.
“Dieudonne M'bala M'bala doesn't seem to recognise any limits anymore,” Valls said in a statement announcing the legal review aimed at prohibiting his public appearances, according to Reuters. “From one comment to the next, as he has shown in several television shows, he attacks the memory of Holocaust victims in an obvious and unbearable way.”
Downing, in caretaker charge at West Brom, said after Saturday’s game that former France international Anelka, 34, was simply showing support for his friend.
“I'm aware of it but it has got nothing to do with what is being said,” Downing said when asked about the gesture. “It is dedicated to a French comedian he knows very, very well. He uses it in his act and I think speculation can be stopped now -- it is absolute rubbish really.
“He is totally unaware of what the problems were or the speculation that has been thrown around. He is totally surprised by it.”
The Press Association reports that the Football Association is aware of the allegation over Anelka's celebration and is looking into the matter.
France's sports minister has condemned the goal celebration. She said on Twitter: "Anelka's gesture is a shocking provocation, disgusting. There's no place for anti-Semitism on the football field.
Le geste d'Anelka est une provocation choquante, écoeurante. Pas de place pour antisémitisme et incitation à la haine sur terrain de foot— Valérie Fourneyron (@vfourneyron) December 28, 2013
Kick It Out, the anti-discrimination campaigning group, said it was looking into the gesture and would help the FA if its assistance is requested.
In a statement, Kick It Out said: "Kick It Out has been made aware of West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka making an alleged gesture, known as the 'quenelle', which carries antisemitic connotations during today's fixture against West Ham United at Upton Park.
"The campaign is in contact with partners in England and France regarding this matter and has offered its support to the Football Association in any forthcoming investigation.''
Anelka had not played since the 4-1 defeat to Liverpool on Oct. 26 but was recalled as one of six changes made by Downing, who looked to prevent any tiredness with the game coming less than 48 hours after a Boxing Day draw at Tottenham.
The caretaker manager was pleased with Anelka's display and is adamant the former Arsenal and Chelsea man is happy at The Hawthorns.
"I thought he had a good game,'' Downing added. "He combined with [Saido] Berahino really well. He has the quality to drop in and link the play and controls the game from that area. He got on the shoulder for his first goal and then a typical poacher's goal from the corner. It has been a while since he has played but his dedication and attitude has always been spot on. He is prepared to play and wants to play.''
Information from the Press Association was used in this report