• 'He didn't mean to cause offence,' says Keith Downing
• FA yet to decide whether to charge the striker
West Bromwich Albion went into full scale damage limitation mode on Monday as the Football Association discussed Nicolas Anelka's contentious quenelle goal celebration with Jewish leaders.
While Anelka has agreed to refrain from repeating the allegedly antisemitic gesture he made after scoring during Saturday's 3-3 draw against West Ham United, he has not apologised for it. Moreover, West Brom have offered their striker near unequivocal support with Keith Downing, the caretaker manager saying he has no doubts about Anelka as a person and that he remains in contention to play against Newcastle United at The Hawthorns on New Year's Day.
"He didn't mean to cause offence," said Downing whose side are embroiled in a fight against relegation and could do with Anelka's goals. "We have spoken to Nico. Obviously now the FA will look into it and we have to deal with that. He was kind of surprised by the reactions – and he's already stated it won't happen again.
"Nico has trained normally. He has been out there today and trained like he did last week. I need to speak to him about the mental aspect for the next couple of games but football wise he's got a lot to offer.
"On a personal note I've always respected him, he's been good to work with. He's been a top player. People call him moody but I've never seen a mood. He's articulate. I have no doubts about him as a person."
Consultations with leading British Jewish groups including Maccabi GB and the Community Security Trust, as well as the anti-racism body Kick It Out, are ongoing, and the FA are taking their time to decide whether to charge Anelka for a gesture often interpreted in his native France as a Nazi salute in reverse.
It would be a surprise if the West Brom forward – who converted to Islam in 2004 – were to escape stern sanction, and a five-game ban is possible, but the FA does not want to rush into a knee-jerk decision.
In an effort to minimise any ban, West Brom released a statement attempting to calm troubled waters before Downing addressed the mediaon Monday.
"The club fully acknowledges that Nicolas's goal celebration has caused offence in some quarters and has asked Nicolas not to perform the gesture again," said the club. "Nicolas immediately agreed to adhere to this request."
Anelka was condemned as racist by the French sports minister, Valérie Fourneyron, following the West Ham game – the incident looms large on the news agenda in France – but, during a series of tweets on Sunday the striker denied that his actions were antisemitic and insisted he was merely paying tribute to his friend, the French comedian Dieudonné M'bala.
Dieudonné, who invented the quenelle – which translates as dumpling – is a hugely controversial figure in France, where he has been convicted six times of defamation, causing offence and inciting racial hatred, and fined a total of £53,400.
Anelka, though, appears to be a fan. The much travelled 34-year-old striker wrote on Twitter: "[The] meaning of quenelle: anti-system. I do not know what the word 'religion' has to do with this story! This is a dedication to Dieudonné. With regard to the ministers who give their own interpretations of my quenelle, they are the ones that create confusion and controversy without knowing what it really means, this gesture."
Publicly, West Brom are sympathetic to Anelka's explanation. "Nicolas was asked to explain his goal celebration by caretaker head coach, Keith Downing, within minutes of the game finishing at West Ham," said the statement. "Nicolas said that he performed the gesture to dedicate his goal to a friend and vehemently denied having any intention to cause offence."
On reporting for training on Monday, Anelka was quizzed at length by Richard Garlick, West Brom's sporting and technical director, but reiterated that he never intended any offence. Stressing they will co-operate fully with the FA, the Midlands club are continuing to make their own confidential inquiries into the matter.
The case for Anelka's defence is potentially supported by the emergence of photographs on social networking sites showing Samir Nasri, the Manchester City midfielder, and Mamadou Sakho, the Liverpool defender, also performing the quenelle.
The photograph of Nasri and a friend was taken outside City's training ground and posted on Facebook in early November before being re-published on social networks on Sunday, 24 hours after Anelka's celebration.
On Monday, Nasri apologised on Twitter: "It has absolutely nothing to do with being antisemitic or against Jewish people. I apologise for any hurt to anyone."
Photographs of Sakho also emerged on Twitter in November, but the Liverpool defender insists he did not know what it meant, saying: "This photo was taken six months ago, I did not know the meaning of this gesture. I was tricked."
Meanwhile Downing must decide whether Anelka faces Newcastle. "In terms of temperament, I assume he'll be able to cope," he said. "He's gone through a lot in his career, but again I would have to talk to him again on Tuesday, I wouldn't want to throw him out there if he's unsure about dealing with it."
Downing confirmed he was navigating uncharted, tricky, terrain. "The last two days have been an education for myself," said the caretaker. "It's been tough. Everyone here is kind of becoming more educated."