Balotelli hits back as Verona supporters' chief fuels racism row
Mario Balotelli on Monday reacted with anger after the head of Verona's hard core ultras fans group fuelled the racism row by denying any abuse had been directed at the Brescia forward who he said could not even be considered Italian.
Italian international Balotelli scored in a 2-1 Serie A defeat on Sunday but his performance was overshadowed by his fury at monkey chants from a section of Verona's supporters.
But Verona's supporters group leader Luca Castellini insisted their fans were not racist.
"Balotelli's a clown. He only heard it in his own head," Castellini told Radio Cafe on Monday.
"We have a cultural identity of a certain kind," Castellini continued.
"We're an irreverent fan base, who make fun of bald players, ones with long hair, southern players and the ones of colour, but we don't do it with political or racist instincts.
"The chants came from only four people, who were only heard by the people who recorded the video."
Despite denials of abuse from Verona, a video published on Twitter by a fan showed a number of supporters directing abuse at Balotelli before the forward booted the ball at them in the stands.
The 29-year-old, who was born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents but was raised just outside Brescia, had to be held back by players from both teams to stop him leaving the pitch.
Castellini added that the 36-times capped international could not even be considered Italian.
"Balotelli's Italian because he has Italian citizenship, but he can never be completely Italian," continued Castellini.
That prompted Balotelli to reply on Instagram: "Here, my friends, this has nothing to do with football anymore.
"You are implying about a social and historical situation much bigger than you small-minded people. You guys are losing it. Wake up, you ignorant people."
Balotelli added: "But when Mario scored and still guarantees to score goals for Italy, you were fine with it?"
When asked if Verona fans were racist, Castellini added: "We have a negro in our team and he scored yesterday and all of Verona applauded."
Castellini was referring to Verona forward Eddie Salcedo.
- 'Decisions, not small talk' -
Verona president Maurizio Setti said Sunday that his club's supporters were "light-hearted, not racist" and were a crowd with "real sport in its DNA".
"We are the first to condemn racism but it is wrong to generalise... Maybe two or three people among 20,000 fans might have said something."
The match was suspended for a few minutes as Balotelli tried to leave the pitch before a message was read out on the stadium loudspeaker threatening that both teams would leave the field if there was a repeat of any abuse, a message that was whistled loudly by a large number of the home fans.
Former England manager Fabio Capello on Monday praised the former Manchester City and Inter Milan player's reaction, and called for strong action.
"Balotelli's reaction was excessive in one respect but important," the 73-year-old told Radio Anch'io Sport.
"We give importance to these people, nobody has the strength to condemn them. They feel strong in groups and are sheep when they are not in a group.
"It would be enough to do as in England, there are cameras. We need decisions, not small talk."
A number of black players have been racially abused by supporters in Italy in the opening weeks of the season, with Milan midfielder Franck Kessie targeted by Verona fans in September and Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku abused at Cagliari, also serial offenders.
Brescia, meanwhile, sacked their 49-year-old coach Eugenio Corini on Sunday after their seventh defeat in ten games.
© 2019 AFP