Former West Brom striker Nicolas Anelka has never been one to refrain from speaking his mind, so it was only a matter of time before he opened up about the controversial "quenelle" celebration that got him suspended for five matches and fined £80,000.
Speaking to French paper Metro News, Anelka offered a defence of his action and went on the offensive against those who labelled him a racist, per Eurosport:
My quenelle was very misunderstood. I have no record of racism or anti-Semitism, there is no evidence to support it, not even a shred of evidence…
I have never had a problem with the Jewish community, and besides why would I have? There are so many questions and no answers. At some point we must stop being paranoid and believing that we are all at war.
The people who wrote the headlines do not know my life.
Anelka then went on to claim that calling all those who perform the "quenelle" racist would be akin to calling all Muslims terrorists in that you're painting a group of people with a broad brush:
Because some people have performed [the quenelle] in front of a synagogue, then the gesture is suddenly meant to be racist and anti-Semitic in any place and in any situation?
Sorry, I'm not swallowing that. I've tried to swallow it but it won't go down.
So if I understand correctly, all priests are paedophiles and all Muslims are terrorists? For me, it's the same principle.
Those interested can read the full article in French here (h/t Eurosport).
The former French international also said that the controversial comedian who created the "quenelle," Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, has become a brother to him, per Adam Crafton of the Daily Mail:
Anelka interview here in French. Extraordinary comments. 'Dieudonne was a friend, now he has become a brother.' http://t.co/6fffTcwtjR— Adam Crafton (@AdamCrafton_) April 3, 2014
For those who don't remember, French journalist Philippe Auclair explained at the time how Anelka's goal celebration back in December could be viewed in a very negative light:
Big storm brewing in France about Anelka's 'celebration' of his first goal ag. WHFC with a - to say the least- a v. controversial gesture.— Philippe Auclair (@PhilippeAuclair) December 28, 2013
This gesture, 'la quenelle', was invented by a comedian named Dieudonne, supposedly as an 'anti-establishment' statement. But...— Philippe Auclair (@PhilippeAuclair) December 28, 2013
...it can also be read as an inversion of the Nazi salute, and has been the subject of an official complaint by anti-racist organisations.— Philippe Auclair (@PhilippeAuclair) December 28, 2013
To use it at the moment is cretinous at best. Far worse than the finger aimed at MCFC fans by Wilshere, which was rightly punished.— Philippe Auclair (@PhilippeAuclair) December 28, 2013
The problem for Anelka stems from the fact that Dieudonne has been a lightning rod in France, with some of his shows in the country banned for their perceived anti-Semitic nature. The United Kingdom also banned him from entry in early February.
As The Telegraph's Hannah Flint reported in January, Dieudonne has his fair share of supporters who view the French comedian as an anti-establishment voice rather than anti-Semitic.
Anelka isn't even the first French athlete to be pictured doing the "quenelle," as Manchester City's Samir Nasri, Liverpool's Mamadou Sakho and Tony Parker of the NBA's San Antonio Spurs have all been caught mimicking the "quenelle."
It's anybody's guess as to whether Anelka's impassioned defense will do him any good in the court of public opinion. There's no doubt a grey area when it comes to the gesture, and it would be wrong to single out Anelka and give others a free pass.
Given the nature and personality of the 35-year-old, though, it's doubtful that this is the last we've heard of the issue.