Mario Balotelli has been subject to an extraordinary racist comment from his chairman at Brescia. The former Leeds owner Massimo Cellino targeted the striker, who was dropped for the weekend defeat by Roma after a row with the manager, Fabio Grosso, as he answered questions about the former Italy international.
Cellino said: “What can I say? That he’s black and he’s working to whiten himself but he has great difficulties in this.”
He was asked about Balotelli before a Serie A meeting on Monday and may have been using a play on the word “black”, which in Italian is often used to mean angry.
Brescia, who are bottom of the league, attempted to play down Cellino’s comment, saying in a statement it was “a quip” that was “clearly misunderstood”. The club added Cellino was “attempting to downplay the excessive media coverage by protecting Balotelli”.
On leaving the meeting Cellino said: “Who’s calling me a racist? … I don’t have to excuse myself from something that I don’t believe in.”
Balotelli had experienced racism at the beginning of his career in Italy, where he rose to prominence with Internazionale. He was also the target of racist chants this month during a match at Verona. That match was suspended for several minutes and Balotelli threatened to leave the field after angrily kicking a ball into the stands.
Balotelli was then called “arrogant” by the club’s ultras group as it defended the Verona fans after the racial abuse.
Derogatory chants have also been aimed at Romelu Lukaku, Franck Kessié, Dalbert Henrique, Miralem Pjanic, Ronaldo Vieira and Kalidou Koulibaly in Serie A. All the players targeted except for Pjanic, who is Bosnian, are black.
Balotelli rejoined Serie A after three years in the French league. He has scored two goals in seven matches but has not been able to spark Brescia, with Grosso challenging the former Manchester City and Liverpool forward to show more “determination and enthusiasm” to regain his place.
“I bought Balotelli because I thought he could add something to the squad,” Cellino said. “But due to overexposure we’ve made him become a weakness. If we continue to talk about Balotelli, we’ll be hurting both him and ourselves.”