West Bromwich, England : Striker Nicolas Anelka announced Friday he was leaving West Bromwich Albion and terminating his contract with immediate effect after being suspended for five matches by the Football Association for a racially aggravated goal celebration.
The Premier League club responded by saying the player's statement was invalid but that it is firing him for “gross misconduct” over the announcement and criticized him for posting it on Twitter—creating yet another spat involving the controversial player.
The former France forward was suspended last month for performing a gesture which is known in France as a “quenelle” and regarded as anti-Semitic.
Anelka said on his Twitter account on Friday that he decided to leave the club because he could not accept West Brom's conditions for being allowed back into the squad.
“Proposals have been made for me to rejoin the group under certain conditions that I can't accept,” Anelka said in French on his 35th birthday. “Wishing to keep my integrity, I took the decision to free myself and end the contract linking me with West Bromwich Albion until 2014, with immediate effect.”
However, West Brom said Anelka had not informed the club of his decision and that his “purported termination of his Premier League contract this evening via social media was invalid as this was not conducted under the correct legal process as required by his contract.”
It added that it considered the statement to be gross misconduct and wrote to Anelka on Friday giving him 14 days' notice of termination—“as required under his contract”—leaving no doubt that he has played his last game for the club, and possibly his career.
In January, Anelka hinted that he could retire at the end of the season but also mentioned interests from clubs including Lazio in signing him.
Anelka performed the quenelle as he celebrated scoring in West Brom's 3-3 draw with West Ham last December. The gesture involves pointing one straightened arm downward while touching the shoulder with the opposite hand. It was popularized by French comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, who has been convicted for inciting racial hatred and anti-Semitism.
West Brom said its conditions for allowing Anelka to resume training included the player apologizing to fans, sponsors and “the wider community” as well as accepting a fine.
After his suspension was announced at the end of last month, both Anelka and West Brom decided not to appeal the sanction. In Anelka's witness statement, the striker said he became aware of Dieudonne in about 2000, met him once, and watched recordings of his shows. He said he made the gesture “purely to say hello to my friend.”
Anelka, who had previously been photographed performing the salute, joined West Brom last summer after two disappointing seasons at Shanghai Shenhua and Juventus.
The former Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Bolton and Chelsea player is one of the most talented and controversial players France has produced since former Manchester United great Eric Cantona.
After growing up in a Parisian suburb, Anelka started his career at Paris Saint-Germain and was quickly spotted by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who signed him in 1997.
Known for his immense technical skills, Anelka played a big part in the Gunners winning both the Premier League and the FA Cup but missed out on a place in the France team that won the 1998 World Cup.
Anelka's sometimes nonchalant attitude and apparent lack of commitment to the team started to anger the Arsenal fans, who gave him the nickname “Le Sulk.” Anelka then joined Real Madrid, where he won the Champions League, before moving to PSG, Liverpool, Manchester City, Fenerbahce and Bolton.
The much-travelled Frenchman then struck up an electric partnership with Didier Drogba at Chelsea, winning the Premier League title and two FA Cups with the Blues.
Anelka caused the biggest controversy of his career with the French national team, when he was sent home from the 2010 World Cup after insulting then-coach Raymond Domenech in the dressing room. The stubborn Anelka refused to apologize and ended his international career in the wake of the scandal with 14 goals in 69 appearances.