Leonardo Bonucci has backtracked on suggestions his Juventus team-mate Moise Kean was partly responsible for the racist abuse he received from Cagliari supporters by insisting he was “misunderstood”.
The defender had said Kean “could have done it differently” and “the blame is 50-50”, after the 19-year-old spread his arms while facing the crowd after scoring.
Bonucci had since been criticised by, among others, Raheem Sterling for saying so, but now says he was “too hasty”.
However, he wrote on Instagram: “After 24 hours I want to clarify my feelings. I was interviewed right at the end of the game, and my words have been clearly misunderstood, probably because I was too hasty in the way I expressed my thoughts.
“Hours and years wouldn’t be enough to talk about this topic. I firmly condemn all forms of racism and discrimination. The abuses are not acceptable at all and this must not be misunderstood.”
Sterling had branded criticism of Kean laughable while the Italian Football Federation issued an apology after the teenage striker was racially abused by fans.
After scoring Juve’s second goal in the 2-0 win at Cagliari, he stood next to the post and spread his arms in a defiant response to monkey chants coming from the stands. His manager Massimiliano Allegri was also critical of his celebration.
Manchester City forward Sterling, who also pointedly celebrated a goal in front of opposition fans after he was racially abused during England’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro last month, had taken to Instagram to counter Bonucci’s argument.
“The blame is 50-50 @bonuccileo19,” he posted alongside a number of laughing and applause emojis.
“All you can do now is laugh.”
Also writing on Instagram, Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba said: “I support every fight against racism, we’re all equal.”
Pogba added in Italian: “Good Italians wake up, you can’t let a small racist group speak for you. #equalgame #respect.”
Former Juve defender Patrice Evra also voiced his support for Kean on Twitter with a post which condemned the abuse.
Evra, on his account @Evra, wrote: “This is not acceptable in football or anywhere in the world. Well done to @moisekean for standing up to them and showing them who is boss. The world would be a better place if we all shared more love no matter what.”
I choose to support my Juve counterpart not blame him. The good news is the ignorant idiots of Cagliari are going absolutely nowhere in life, whilst Kean is a rising superstar and Matuidi a world cup winner. I also focus on that.
Kean 1Racist Cagliari idiots 0 pic.twitter.com/KcLSb17HhY
— Eniola Aluko (@EniAlu) April 3, 2019
There was further support from Eni Aluko, who plays for Juventus Women and who wrote on Twitter: “I choose to support my Juve counterpart not blame him. The good news is the ignorant idiots of Cagliari are going absolutely nowhere in life, whilst Kean is a rising superstar and Matuidi a World Cup winner. I also focus on that. Kean 1 Racist Cagliari idiots 0.”
Kean posted a message on Instagram with a photo of his celebration and a caption which read: “The best way to respond to racism #notoracism.”
The incident came in the middle of UEFA’s two-day ‘equal game’ conference to tackle discrimination in the game and panellist Yaya Toure, the former Manchester City midfielder, called on the Italian football authorities to act.
He said: “To be honest that was so hard to take. I was shocked when I saw that happen and then the manager saying Kean shouldn’t have done that. I want to see what the Italian FA is going to do about it. I want to see a response.
“I’ve been in football for a long time and I didn’t see progress. Yesterday look what happened? And players saying ‘you shouldn’t have done that’. It’s a disgrace.”
Cristina Blasetti from the Italian Football Federation, who was in the conference audience at Wembley Stadium, stood up and apologised.
She said: “We are very sorry for what happened last night. We are doing our best to tackle this issue.”
Yaya Toure and Jason Roberts condemned the criticism aimed at Moise Kean from his own club for his defiant celebration, at the UEFA Equal Game conference pic.twitter.com/q2ylsVI3Qh
— Andy Sims (@AndyCSims) April 3, 2019
Former Wigan striker Jason Roberts, now CONCACAF director of development, applauded the players who are standing up to racism but questioned why it should fall to them to do so.
Roberts told the conference: “I think it’s deeply troubling when you see a young player having to endure what was thrown at him, and that we have to watch somebody at 19 years old put in a position of leadership like that.
“What was stark was the reaction of some opposition players and some of his own players to move him away from the situation as if he had done something wrong. I think he showed remarkable maturity to not react more. Who else in the workplace would have to endure what that poor young man had to go through?
“We are seeing the rise of it in society and again in football. This is about representation, about the toughest of sanctions ensuring players have the confidence in the governing bodies and decision-makers that the sanctions match the crime.
“I’m not sure we have that at the moment and that’s why we have a climate where managers, players, both black and white, are saying that they will walk off the pitch.
What happened to Moise Kean last night is inexcusable. Two incidents recently have highlighted even more that there is still a shocking issue within our beautiful game. I have nothing but respect for what Moise and Raheem did and how they handled the matter. #SayNoToRacism pic.twitter.com/HnT2hZZXpM
— Christian Benteke (@chrisbenteke) April 3, 2019
“If that happens it leaves us in a very difficult position. It means we are not doing enough and that the players are being asked to lead on this issue again.”
Anti-discrimination campaigners Kick It Out condemned the Italian federation as well as Allegri and Bonucci, saying: “This is the third year in a row that black players have been racially abused at Cagliari…and yet the Italian FA allows it to continue.”