CHELSEA striker Romelu Lukaku became embroiled in the growing row over Nicolas Anelka’s controversial “quenelle” gesture yesterday, after the West Brom player was formally charged by the Football Association.
Lukaku, 20, who is on a season-long loan at Everton, defended Anelka’s use of the gesture, which has been called anti-Semitic, and said the Frenchman, who faces a minimum five-match suspension, did not deserve a ban.
The “quenelle” is associated with anti-Zionist French comedian Dieudonne. Anelka, who performed the salute last month at West Ham, has insisted it is merely anti-establishment, but critics, including France’s Sport Minister, say it is anti-Semitic.
“I think he shouldn’t be banned for that,” Lukaku, 20, said of his “idol” in an interview posted on the Everton website but later removed.
“He was supporting a stand-up comedian in France. We don’t have to make such a big deal about it. He’s an adult. I hope he doesn’t get suspended because he’s a player people want to see play on the pitch.”
The Belgian’s comments came after Monday’s draw at West Brom but were published yesterday, when the FA had confirmed it was charging Anelka with making an “abusive, indecent, insulting or improper gesture aggravated by a reference to ethnic origin, race, religion or belief”.
Under rules introduced this season, Anelka faces at least a five-game suspension. The former Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid player has until 6pm today to respond to the charge.
Property website Zoopla this week announced it would not be renewing its £3m, two-year sponsorship of West Brom at the end of the season owing to concerns over the Anelka row. The company’s co-owner Alex Chesterton is Jewish.
Anelka, 34, performed the “quenelle” after scoring in the 3-3 Premier League draw at Upton Park on 29 December. It came the day after the French government said it was trying to prevent Dieudonne performing.
Anti-discrimination campaigners Kick It Out said the FA’s decision had taken “longer than desirable”. The governing body had previously defended the delay on the grounds that it needed to consult experts.