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In defence of Lukaku's recent comments

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Richard Heathcote

No, this isn't a post about Romelu Lukaku's form (which, it must be said, isn't particularly great at the moment). Rather, it's one about a comment Chelsea's future at centre forward made about the controversy embroiling a former player. Yep, we get to talk Nicolas Anelka and the quenelle now.

Anelka has recently been charged by the FA over making the quenelle, a gesture that serves as the calling card of French convicted anti-Semite and comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, during West Bromwich Albion's 3-3 draw against West Ham last month. If found guilty, Anelka will face at least a five game suspension and the prevailing thought is that it will be more.

The excuse used by the 34-year-old is that he was merely performing an anti-establishment gesture in support of Dieudonné (who is, apparently, a good friend); at this we don't need to get into the logic and details over whether or not these claims hold any water. This is, after all, about Romelu Lukaku.

Don't worry -- Lukaku's not been caught quenelling or anything. But he is in a bit of trouble. After word of the FA charge came out this week, the Belgian took to video to defend his former teammate. On the official Everton site, no less:

He was my idol since I was a kid and still is. I think he shouldn’t be banned for that. He just liked to support a stand-up comedian in France, so we don’t have to make such a big deal about it. I hope he doesn’t get suspended because he’s a player that people want to see play on the pitch.

That interview lingered on the club's page for a good ten minutes before being taken back down again, an action presumably accompanied by the pained screams of a media officer being struck repeatedly with a ferret (I'm pretty sure that's what happens at Everton; please don't crush my dreams).

And while some -- many, even -- might find Lukaku's words of support for Anelka compelling, one party that did not is Kick It Out, the anti-racism charity for whom the striker serves as an ambassador. There's apparently some suggestion that Lukaku should be dropped for supporting what can very easily be interpreted as an anti-Semitic gesture. That's not an unreasonable position to take, but it's also not unreasonable to chalk up the striker's quote to sheer naivite.

It's probably reasonable to think that the quenelle is an anti-establishment gesture if you're not close to those who are obviously using it as a cowardly proxy for anti-Semitism. As far as we know, Lukaku's understanding of the quenelle doesn't come from Dieudonne but rather from Anelka and the media coverage around the controversy. There can be no tainting by association here; rather it's a case of a young man trying to stick up for a former teammate and friend in a situation he doesn't quite understand.

The interview should not have been aired, but it's Everton's responsibility to understand the repercussions of what he says off the pitch, and they failed him here. If Kick It Out are seriously considering dropping Lukaku over this, I would suggest that they recognise that Lukaku's words were those of an under-informed friend rather than something more sinister and focus on educating footballers and the public over important issues rather than attacking a player for being naive.

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