STEVE BRUCE insists Hull City will defend “vigorously” the charge of improper conduct against Yannick Sagbo over his support of Nicolas Anelka amid fears the striker could miss the FA Cup semi-final through suspension.
The 25-year-old has until next Tuesday to respond to the Football Association over the tweeting of a message by the Tigers forward in the wake of Anelka’s infamous ‘quenelle’ gesture when playing for West Bromwich Albion.
Anelka was subsequently handed a five-match ban for the anti-establishment gesture, which has been commonly associated with French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala and has a strong anti-Semitic meaning.
Once the charge is answered, the FA will then decide what action, if any, to take by the end of April 9. With a ban a real possibility, Sagbo could miss out on Hull’s Wembley date with Sheffield United a week tomorrow.
For Bruce, who will be without Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic at Wembley due to the pair being Cup-tied, losing one of his main strikers would be a big blow.
He said: “If we have offended anyone, on behalf of the club, I can only apologise.
“But Yannick is referring to Nicolas Anelka, not the gesture. In his eyes, Anelka has been the best striker.
“I asked him, ‘What did you put that out for?’ Sagbo said, ‘Because he has been the best French striker we have ever had’.
“It is difficult with Yannick, we need to use an interpreter. He doesn’t speak a lot of English. It’s broken.
“He doesn’t understand why he has been charged. He thinks, ‘What have I done wrong?’
“He has tweeted that Nicolas Anelka’s a legend. In some people’s eyes, he is. That is nothing to do with his gesture. He has been a great player.
“We will take legal advice and we will defend him vigorously. We have got an important time coming up. ”
Sagbo, who was this week joined in being charged by QPR loanee Benoit Assou-Ekotto, posted a picture on Twitter of Anelka’s celebration alongside the word “Legend”.
He also referred to Anelka as a role model for France’s urban youth.
The matter has once again thrown into sharp focus footballers’ use of social media, something that Bruce admits mystifies him.
The Hull manager said: “I get accused of being a dinosaur too often. But it (social media) doesn’t appeal to me at all.
“I can’t understand it. I see all the young ones today and rather than sit and read or watch a programme, they are looking at their phones.
“Middle-aged men like me look at it and think, ‘Dear oh dear, how did it come to this?’ In my day, we didn’t want to tell the world what we were up to.
“Everyone seems to want to tell the world, ‘I’m going to the supermarket to buy a bag of potatoes’. How anyone gets off on that is beyond me but these young ones do it.”
Sagbo’s charge has been an unwelcome distraction for Hull ahead of today’s visit to the KC Stadium by Swansea City.
After back-to-back defeats on the road at West Ham United and Stoke City, the Tigers have another opportunity to get the 10th win that Bruce has believed all season will be enough to guarantee Premier League survival.
If that can be as good as sealed today, the focus can switch fully to the April 13 semi-final meeting with the Blades.
“Swansea is a bigger game for us all,” said Bruce. “If you have got anything about you, the last thing you want is to go back and play in the Championship. That should be the players’ biggest spur.
“What I will say is that there are places up for grabs (at Wembley). The team for Wembley isn’t settled in my mind, not at all.
“But this game against Swansea is just as important, if not more important than the semi-final and I think the players know that. We need to stay here in the big league.
“The FA Cup has helped us a little bit. But we have to make sure we stay in this division. We have got ourselves a wonderful opportunity. Let’s grasp it by staying in the division and getting to the final.”
David Meyler is hoping to help Hull do just that and he admits taking three points off Swansea would give the squad a major boost before travelling to Wembley, even if the midfielder insists the East Riding club would still have work to do in the fight to avoid relegation.
“Until it is mathematically impossible (to go down) we are not safe,” said the Republic of Ireland international.
“We would have a great advantage with five games to go.
“But while the other teams have got difficult run-ins, we would still need to focus on ourselves.
“That said, if the lads can come off a terrific result against Swansea it would give us a boost. If we are bang at it, we can go and enjoy it. The confidence would be flowing and the lads can go out and express themselves.”
Regardless of how this season ends, it has surely been a personal triumph for Meyler, who has become such a mainstay of the side that he has missed just two games since the end of October.
His previous highest tally of Premier League appearances in a season was the 10 he made for Sunderland in 2009-10. Meyler added: “I wouldn’t say I’ve cracked the Premier League.
“It has been fantastic so far but we have still got six games to go.
“Hopefully I can say something differently in three years’ time when I’ve got 100 Premier League games behind me. Maybe I’ll have cracked it then, rather than after one season.”