Everton striker Romelu Lukaku has apologised for any offence caused after he expressed support for under-fire French star Nicolas Anelka.
Lukaku, who is on loan at Everton from Chelsea, featured in a video interview posted on the Toffees’ website in which he said there did not have to be “such a big deal” made about Anelka’s controversial ‘quenelle’ goal celebration.
The quenelle, a pose Anelka struck after scoring in a 3-3 draw at West Ham on December 28, has been labelled anti-Semitic and an inverted Nazi salute.
Belgium international Lukaku, an ambassador for British anti-racism group Kick It Out, said in the interview: “I don’t think he should be banned for that. He was just supporting a comedian in France.
“We don’t have to make such a big deal about it.”
Everton quickly removed the video from their website.
The ‘quenelle’, popularised by French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, has been described by critics in France as an inverted Nazi salute, but Anelka has insisted that it was merely “a dedication” to the comic, whom he calls a friend.
And Lukaku, 20, moved to distance himself from the controversy on Thursday when he released a statement which claimed he was only trying to show support for a former Chelsea team-mate.
“I want to make clear that I was supporting a friend and player I have admired since I was a child,” he said.
“I apologise if I caused any offence with my comments as this was never my intention.
“There has been a misunderstanding and I want to clarify that I was in no way endorsing the gesture made by Nicolas.”
Reports had suggested Lukaku faced being dropped from his role with Kick It Out as a result of the interview.
And alongside the Lukaku comments, Kick It Out also issued their own statement saying: “Kick It Out has sought clarity from Romelu Lukaku on comments made to Sky Sports about Nicolas Anelka and the FA investigation into the ‘quenelle’ gesture (the interview that appeared on Everton’s website).
“Romelu has clearly stated that he had no intention to support the gesture made by Anelka.
“The campaign continues to work with Romelu as a ‘Next 20′ ambassador and will look to guide him, in partnership with community organisations, on the sensitivity of issues covering all forms of discrimination moving forward.”
Anelka had until 1800 GMT on Thursday to decide whether to formally challenge a charge lodged by the English Football Association of making an abusive gesture with racial undertones.
If found guilty the former Arsenal and Real Madrid forward faces a minimum five-game suspension.
Despite the furore, Anelka played for West Brom against Everton on Monday, the same day club sponsors Zoopla said they would not be renewing their backing next season in the wake of the controversy.