LONDON – Let us assume, for a moment, Nicolas Anelka was telling the truth.
That comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala is just a friend and Anelka dedicated a goal to his fellow countryman. Forget that Dieudonne has been convicted eight times for offenses linked to anti-Semitism, he is Anelka’s pal.
Yet why on earth, when you have just scored your first goal for West Bromwich Albion, would you celebrate with, in Anelka’s words “a gesture dedicated to Dieudonne”?
It was obviously pre-planned; putting your left hand across your chest on to your right arm which is pointed downwards is not a natural way to act after scoring.
To many in Anelka’s native France, it is seen as a restrained Nazi sign — was he unaware of this as he dedicated the goal to someone who has as much connection with the sport as Santa Claus?
I have no problem with Chelsea’s Frank Lampard pointing to the sky and dedicating each goal to his late mother who he loved so much. But those affectionate gestures apart, a goal should be celebrated in a traditional football manner . . . punching the air, running to your teammates to exchange joyful hugs.
The best outpouring of happiness I have ever seen was by Marco Tardelli of Italy during the 1982 World Cup final. Google it and you’ll see what I mean.
Anelka has yet to explain why he would dedicate a goal to a friend whose la quenelle sign is seen as synonymous with anti-Semitism and not, as the striker insists, anti-Establishment.
Again, let us give Anelka the benefit of the doubt, but would it not occur to him that a football pitch is the wrong platform for an anti-Establishment gesture?
You score a goal and make an anti-Establishment sign.
Dieudonne was unknown in England until Anelka gave him his 15 — and rising — minutes of fame. You can bet that the pond life among football supporters will find it cool to copy the quenelle, thereby associating themselves with someone they had never heard of, but who is anti-Establishment, which has to be a good thing.
As the story gathered pace, a photo emerged of Manchester City’s Samir Nasri doing a quenelle. The France international, who claimed to be unaware of the gesture’s anti-Semitic connections, tweeted: “The pose in the picture . . . symbolizes being against the system.”
Presumably this is not the system that enabled the midfielder to become a multimillionaire.
At least Nasri’s quenelle was in private. By doing it after scoring in a high profile televised game broadcast live in France on Canal+, Anelka would have been aware that it would go viral, giving his “friend,” who thinks jokes about gas chambers are funny, the sort of publicity he craves.
It is the hottest of hot potatoes for the Football Association as it investigates the matter. The quenelle is not outlawed in France as a Nazi salute is and the F.A. may find it difficult to prove that it is offensive — a two-match suspension — as the quenelle meant nothing in England.
Given the huge weight of public opinion urging for Anekla to be punished, English football’s ruling body will be aware of ensuring there is a natural sense of justice. The F.A.’s argument could be that even if, as Anelka says, the quenelle is merely anti-Establishment, it therefore represents a political gesture, which carries a minimum five-game ban.
Anelka has promised not to repeat his controversial celebration. What he has not done is to apologize for doing it in the first place, so presumably he feels he has nothing to be sorry about.
* * *
ACCORDING TO Abraham Lincoln, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Some leading Premier League managers are doing all they can to prove the former American president was wrong.
They try to deflect criticism of their team or players by blaming the referee for perceived poor decisions that were the reason for their defeat.
Step forward David Moyes, following on magnificently from Sir Alex Ferguson, who almost made ref-baiting an art form.
On the collision between Hugo Lloris and Ashley Young during Manchester United’s 2-1 home defeat by Spurs, Moyes said: “It’s absolutely ridiculous that it was not a definite penalty and a definite sending off.”
In fact, what is ridiculous is to suggest that. It was a penalty, but one where opinion was divided; in law it was never a red card, though.
United has had more yellow cards for simulation — diving — this season than any other club thanks to Ashley Young and Adnan Januzaj. In Moyes’ view, at least in public, the referee was wrong on each occasion.
It was never going to be easy for the former Everton manager to succeed Ferguson and comparisons, however unfair, were inevitable. United’s best-case scenario this season is a top-four finish — it has already dropped 26 points, one more than in the whole of last season.
Under Moyes, United has dropped 16 home points, while Ferguson lost 14 in his last 68 home league games. The League Cup semifinal against Sunderland — the first leg is on Tuesday — is now of unexpected significance.
And then, inevitably, there is Jose Mourinho. The suspicion is that there is an agenda to everything he says and the Chelsea manager was at his worst after its 2-1 win over Liverpool last Sunday.
His team was terrific and the way he set his side up was a coaching master class, but with Mourinho there has to be a jagged edge even in victory.
The Portuguese was a lone siren voice when he said Samuel Eto’o did not foul Luis Suarez which everyone else thought should have resulted in a late penalty for the visitors. In fact, according to Mourinho, the Liverpool striker should have been cautioned for “an acrobatic swimming pool jump.”
By coming out with such a statement, Mourinho is treating us like morons, like his puppets as he pulls the strings defending the indefensible. Even Eto’o disagreed with his manager and said he should have been sent off.
Mourinho is a brilliant coach, his motivational skills second to none, and while this Chelsea team is a work in progress it could still win the title. He does not need to behave as he does to be successful, though sadly he would say his CV justifies his excesses.
* * *
VINCENT TAN has been portrayed as a James Bond villain character, a man whose almost zero knowledge of football does not stop him from telling his manager what to do and the worst chairman in the Premier League. Plus much, much more.
The Malaysian billionaire has changed Cardiff’s colors from blue to red and sacked a hugely popular manager in Malky Mackay for apparently overspending in last summer’s transfer window.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows the nature of the beast he is now working for though it remains a mystery why the former Manchester United striker, who led Molde to successive Norwegian titles, would want to start his managerial career in English football with the club owned by Tan.
His decision prompted a collective scratching of heads and the jokes started immediately. Tan has told Solksjaer that Cardiff cannot be relegated from Serie A. It must win the Super Bowl. Solksjaer must finish the season top goalscorer.
“Not everything is as it appears from the outside,” said Solksjaer and for his sake we must hope he is right.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.