It’s just like Paolo Di Canio. Remember when the Italian, having been photographed in front of fearsomely right-wing Lazio supporters with his right arm thrust in the air, defended himself thus – “It’s not a Nazi salute. It’s a roman salute”?
Weirdly, not everyone on planet football said 'pull the other one'. Yeah, some didn’t! Maybe you didn’t. Maybe it is possible to observe a gesture associated with one of the most malevolent and murderous regimes in history and not be reminded of one of the most malevolent and murderous regimes in history.
The same equation’s happening all over again with Nicolas Anelka and the quenelle gesture. Crass public gesture by footballer = outrage/controversy + lots of googling = rebuttal from protagonist. The fallout from la quenelle can be broadly distilled down to the headline: 'Footballer thinks it unreasonable to connect anti-semitic gesture with anti-semitism'.
Maybe, just like agreeing with Di Canio - that it wasn’t Paolo’s fault his favourite innocent hand gesture was hijacked by the inconvenient rise of the Third Reich - some think it perfectly plausible that a man can be friends with a stand-up performer and display zero curiosity over his act let alone go to see it for himself, yet be friends enough to ape the signature gesture that defines said performer’s career.
(Many have referred to Anelka’s chum, Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, as a comedian, but take a look at his routine. Such a description surely demands a perusal of the Trades Descriptions Act).
So! Ding ding for another battle of the boneheads … footballer v the FA … the like of which seem to increasingly punctuate the game in the UK these days. But which way will it go? Will Anelka triumph, laughing his head off at how ourselves and the governing body – having had the temerity to do the sums from two and two and land at four – were trumped by the 'free speech/anti-establishment' joker?
Or will it be the FA itself, in taking the utterly correct and so obvious-the-fact-it-has-to-be-pointed-out-is-an-affront-to-reasonable-people course of action and banning him for a considerable period of time?
By the way, the FA appointed an 'expert' to look into the history of the quenelle. The right thing to do, I’m sure you’ll agree, until someone invents a research tool on every computer in the world or video-sharing facility or something.
Luis Suarez received eight games for racially abusing Patrice Evra; John Terry four matches for the Anton Ferdinand incident. Those were exchanges of words, pumped-up and nasty, but dissolving away in an instant.
Anelka stands on a football pitch in London and performs a gesture that is frozen, replayed, slo-mo’d, debated the world over. The image is preserved. Premier League fanatics from Tokyo to Tanzania and everywhere in between have been doing their research.
So, ban-wise, you do the math.
For the record, Anelka’s explanation for the quenelle (and likewise Samir Nasri, another footballer pictured performing the gesture) is, as briefly alluded to earlier, that it is “anti-establishment”. Of course it is. If you’re clutching at a right-on defence, is there anything more hip? Nicolas Anelka? Anti-establishment? Really?
Planning on joining an anti-capitalism march in London but not being able to make it in the end because you’ve got to go fly out to China because they’re offering more money out there can be such a bummer. You can still do your bit though - remember to wear that Che Guevara T-shirt at all times.
Or did he just not think it through?
Actually, maybe, could this be at the heart of the problem, I mean, whisper it, but maybe Anelka just doesn’t think? Maybe he doesn’t think like a lot of the rest of us? Maybe he does genuinely interpret a load of Jew jokes, songs about gas chambers and people on stage dressed up in concentration camp overalls, as equating to an anti-establishment stance? We’ll never know.
From Robbie Fowler’s touchline-snorting, El Hadji Diouf’s spitting, Luis Suarez's something, Joey Barton’s brawling, Luis Suarez's something else, Di Canio’s non-fascism, Luis Suarez's something else again, John Terry’s racism …. the combination of adrenaline and old-fashioned dunderheadedness on a football pitch will always be a recipe for flashpoints which produce various and complex degrees of moral outrage and debate.
But the Anelka thing is different. Don’t lose sight of the central point – a footballer openly and willingly aped the signature gesture of a stage performer who no reasonable person would consider as anything other than anti-semitic at best, objectionable and deeply offensive at worst. Anything else - any attempts at mitigation, or arguments to the contrary - is pure mist.
So will the FA assume the role of the boy in the story of the emperor’s new clothes and call it as it is? It’s a deliciously clever tale. As too, in a far less eloquent but no less prescient way, is the manner in which Burt Reynolds’ character in the film Boogie Nights, a faded blue-movie director, gives short shrift to a colleague’s insistence that the move to video, with its promotion of cheaper production and inferior actors, can retain the glamour of film.
Burt takes a meaty puff on a cigar. “Hmmm,” he says. “If it looks like s***, smells like s***, experience tells me it’s probably s***.”
Somebody give Anelka a bucket and tell him to clean it up.
Andy Bodfish - @AndyBodfish