Mario Balotelli

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Mancini says he wants Balotelli back with Italy on merits

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FLORENCE, Italy (AP) — Italy coach Roberto Mancini says he prefers to recall Mario Balotelli for his qualities as a player, not as a message against racism.

Balotelli has not been called up by Mancini in more than a year but Italian soccer federation president Gabriele Gravina has said naming him in the squad would send a strong message after the Brescia forward was racially abused recently.

Mancini said Monday that “if Balotelli gets another chance, it will be because he deserves it from a technical point of view.”

Balotelli was included in Mancini’s first two squads but again was omitted from upcoming European qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Armenia.

Balotelli has long said his goal is to rejoin the national team for next year’s European Championship.

The 29-year-old striker has scored two goals in seven matches this season.

Brescia ultras criticize Balotelli after racial abuse

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File this under yet another inconceivable act by Italian fans in the prolonged saga of racial abuse in Serie A, most recently aimed at Brescia forward Mario Balotelli.

After the striker was racially abused at a game against Hellas Verona last weekend in which monkey chants could clearly be heard in videos taken from the away stand, Balotelli exploded, kicking the ball into the stands and nearly walking off the pitch before pleas from players on both sides managed to calm him and keep him on the field.

Days after the game, Hellas Verona ultras released a stunningly irresponsible and senseless statement in which they defended their actions, claimed Balotelli was not fully Italian, and said Balotelli had “voices in his head.” As a result of the statement, leader of the ultras Luca Castellini was banned by Hellas Verona for 11 years.

Now, fans of his own team have followed suit, releasing a statement accusing Balotelli of “arrogance” for his actions in response to the abuse. Brescia ultras posted a long diatribe on their website claiming that Balotelli’s character makes it hard to root for him (as they put it, “conflicting and unflattering opinions even before he wore our shirt”), and declared themselves insulted by the “witch-hunt…in yet another attempt to criminalize and destroy the entire ultras world.”

Instead of defending their player in the face of racial abuse, the statement criticizes Balotelli for his mental state. “We were not the only ones to have had doubts about him,” the statement claims. “It is true that thousands of fans from different Italian/foreign fanbases first welcomed him with open arms, and then disavowed him for his attitude.”

“No one has ever put pressure on him, so the nervousness that grips him and turns him negative every time he takes the field is unjustified, at least for us,” they wrote. “If Balotelli was not ready psychologically to face the Verona fanbase and, above all, such a delicate match in which our city and our coach – among the most beloved figures – was taking his final chance at saving his job, then he should have said so and left his place to someone less irritable than him.”

The statement did condemn the monkey chants, but seemed to pound over and over that a small, criminal minority does not define a supporter group. “This obviously does not mean that some chants are legitimate and acceptable, but also that the [Verona] fans are not all racists, and that the Curva del Verona is a sort of KKK den, as some would have us believe.”

It is stunning that a supporter group would attack its own player for his emotional reaction in the face of racial abuse, rather than lift him up with the support befitting of such a scenario. To think a player is “arrogant” for responding angrily to such vile chants from the crowd only proves further the systemic issues Serie A faces in tackling racial abuse.

The league has already passed judgement on the situation, having ordered the closure of Verona’s Poltrone Est stand for one game.

‘The problem is I’m Italian’ says Balotelli amid racism debate

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ROME (AP) The ball that Mario Balotelli angrily kicked high into the stands out of frustration because of racist chants is still traveling.

Figuratively speaking, at least.

In a Serie A season that has been marred by discriminatory slurs from the outset, Balotelli’s outburst has prompted more debate, more outrage and more indignation over the problem of racism inside Italy’s stadiums than any other case.

“I am not saying that I am different to the other players who receive the same abuse, the same monkey noises, but the problem is that I am Italian,” said Balotelli, who was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants and has represented the Italian national team.

Luca Castellini, the leader of the Hellas Verona “ultra” fan section that directed the racist chants at Balotelli, sees it differently.

“Balotelli is Italian because he has Italian citizenship but he’ll never be fully Italian,” Castellini said Monday, a day after the incident during the second half of the Verona-Brescia game.

Castellini’s comment caught the attention of Liliana Segre , an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor and Italian senator who recently proposed a parliamentary commission against anti-Semitism.

“They’re still judging people by the color of their skin?” Segre said. “There’s a good reason why this commission should get to work straightaway.”

Balotelli, meanwhile, wrote on Instagram: “People like (Castellini) should be banned from society – not just soccer.”

Vincenzo Spadafora, the government minister for sport and youth policies, chimed in and ordered Hellas Verona and the city’s mayor – who had denied the existence of the racist chants – to condemn Castellini.

Verona responded by banning Castellini from its stadium until 2030 – adding on to a previous ban through 2022 – and the Italian league ordered part of the Bentegodi Stadium closed to fans for the team’s next home match, noting that the chants “were clearly audible.”

The punishments come in stark contrast to the way the league ignored monkey noises directed at Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku during a match at Cagliari in September. There was also no punishment for racist chants aimed by Verona fans at AC Milan midfielder Franck Kessie in September.

Derogatory chants have also been aimed at Dalbert Henrique, Miralem Pjanic, Ronaldo Vieira and Kalidou Koulibaly in Serie A this season. All the players targeted – except for Pjanic, who is Bosnian – are black.

“Too often the soccer clubs have played down and defended – due to laziness, connivance or fear – the extremists among their own fans,” Spadafora said. “Over the last few months things have started to change but there are still many steps to be taken.”

On Tuesday, Verona prosecutors announced the opening of two separate investigations – one into Castellini for allegedly instigating racial discrimination and the other into the chants inside the stadium.

Hellas Verona president Maurizio Setti said his team was being treated as “a scapegoat,” while Verona Mayor Federico Sboarina labeled the partial stadium closure “Kafkian.”

Another city politician suggested a class action lawsuit against the Italian league, and a group of city council members proposed that the city should sue Balotelli for defamation.

There is a long history of Balotelli being subjected to racist chants in Verona, stretching back to when he said “the fans in Verona disgust me” after a Chievo Verona-Inter Milan match in 2010 when he played for Inter.

After three seasons in France, Balotelli returned to Italy this season with Brescia, his hometown club and a regional rival of Verona.

“I’ll be honest, I really like the stadium in Verona and their fans, as they have always mocked in an amusing and ironic way,” Balotelli said on TV channel Italia 1. “If they want to distract a player, they can do it in a thousand ways, but not (with racism).

“My daughter saw this on TV and that made it hurt three times as much,” Balotelli added. “I can take all kinds of insults, but ones based on racism are not acceptable, have never been acceptable and never will be acceptable. Those who did it, and I repeat they are only a few, are complete idiots.”

What was lost in the post-match discussion was how well Balotelli played in Verona.

He hit the post in the first half then scored with a curling shot into the top corner from beyond the box late in Brescia’s 2-1 loss.

Balotelli’s form, however, was not the reason why Italian soccer federation president Gabriele Gravina made a public call for the striker to be called back onto the national team.

“It would be an extraordinary message to the world, to people who think about putting off their opponents by making expressions of that kind,” Gravina said. “Balotelli is Italian. I’m with him all the way. He has shown to have a more-than-Italian level of sensitivity.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

Balotelli could be sued for complaining about racism; Ultra leader banned

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Mario Balotelli could be sued for defamation by the City of Verona in Italy after complaining about being racially abused by Hellas Verona fans.

Seriously.

A motion sent to Verona council by local councillors proposes that Balotelli should be sued. It was published by Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy, via Reuters.

“The mayor and the legal offices of the municipality should take legal action against the footballer and all those who attack Verona by unjustly defaming it… It is no longer fair that Verona is put in the dock when, as in this case, nothing happened.”

Since the incident the Hellas Verona manager, Ivan Juric, club president, Maurizio Setti, the club and the mayor of Verona, Federico Sboarina, have denied Balotelli was racially abused.

However, on Tuesday the club handed an 11-year suspension to Luca Castellini for “behavior based on considerations and expressions seriously contrary to those that distinguish the ethical principles and values ​​of our club” and added he was suspended until 30 June 2030.

Footage on social media has circulated showing monkey noises clearly being directed at Balotelli.

Balotelli reacted angrily in the Serie A clash on Sunday, as he picked up the ball and kicked it towards the fans where he claimed the racist chants were coming from.

After threatening to walk off the pitch Balotelli was then surrounded by players from both teams who consoled him and told him to stay on. The referee halted the game for around five minutes as announcements were made to the crowd over the PA system.

Balotelli scored as Brescia lost 2-1.

It is the latest in a long line of recent incidents of racist chanting in Serie A, with Romelu Lukaku and targeted this season. Balotelli has been subjected to racist abuse in Italy throughout his career, as the Italian national was born to Ghanian parents but adopted by an Italian family at the age of three.

The Italian national team striker released the following statement on social media about the incident, which has angered some councillors in Verona and led to this call for legal action against the former Inter Milan and Manchester City star.

“Thanks to all the colleagues on the field and off for the solidarity I had with me, and all the messages received from you fans,” Balotelli said. “Thank you very much. You have proven to be true men not like those who deny the evidence. #notoracism.

“The ’people’ of this curva who made the monkey chants. Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you. In front of your children, wives, relatives, parents, friends and acquaintances … shame.”

Well said, Mario.

Balotelli responds to Hellas Verona ultras after racist chanting

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Mario Balotelli has responded to Hellas Verona ultras on social media after enduring yet another spell of racist chanting in Serie A play.

The Brescia striker booted the ball into the stands and was visibly upset after fans racially abused him in the 2-1 defeat to Verona at Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi. It appeared that Balotelli initially wished to walk off the pitch before players seemed to console him during the ensuing stoppage of play.

Luca Castellini, leader of the Hellas Verona ultras who were accused of the abuse, issued a disgusting statement via local radio that contradicted itself on numerous occasions, called Balotelli a “clown” and claims he is not fully Italian, played the abuse off as without “political or racist intentions,” and said the chants were “voices in [Balotelli’s] own head.” Verona president Maurizio Setti also refused to condemn the fans, saying the crowd was “light-hearted, not racist” and had “real sport in its DNA.”

Balotelli has since responded to Castellini’s words on Instagram, where he took to thank his teammates and supporters, who he said “you have proven to be true men, unlike those who deny the evidence.”

He then used his Instagram Story to provide further commentary, including a fan video of the incident where monkey chanting can be heard just before Balotelli kicks the ball into the stands. Balotelli himself writes, “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.” To the claims that he is not Italian, he wrote, “But when Mario scored and still guarantees to score goals for Italy, you were fine with it?” He states, “these ‘people’ must be cast out by society, not just by football.”

He finished off his posts with, “Just leave it alone. Enough. Enough.”

Balotelli scored in the loss – his second goal of the Serie A season – in the defeat to Hellas Verona, although the club was unable to snap its six-match winless run.