Balotelli Hits Back At Racist Abuse: "This Is No Longer About Football"
By Tom Sanders
Mario Balotelli has hit back at the Verona Ultras who have plagued him with racist abuse, calling them "ignorant, small-minded people" and warning "this is not about football anymore."
Balotelli's comments come after his struggle against racist abuse hit a tipping point on Saturday, with the Brescia striker almost walking off the pitch on Saturday during his team's game against Verona after suffering relentless abuse from rival fans.
The former Man City striker was eventually convinced to stay on the pitch by teammates and scored during Brescia's 2-1 loss to the home side, but was visibly shaken by the abuse and at one point kicked the ball into the crowd in anger.
To make matters worse, the chief of Verona's Ultra's, Luca Castellini, remarked in an interview that the Verona fan's treatment of Balotelli was simply "folklore" and part of their fan "culture".
That prompted the 29-year-old to respond on Instagram: "Listen, my friends, this is not about 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."
Despite denials of abuse from Verona, a video published on Twitter by a fan showed a number of supporters clearly directing monkey chants at Balotelli before the Italy international booted the ball at them in the stands.
When questioned about the abuse, Verona coach Ivan Juric told Sky Sport that he heard "no racists chants, nothing at all" after a win that lifts his side to ninth, adding that "to say otherwise is a lie".
Italy coach Roberto Mancini, who managed Balotelli at Inter Milan and Manchester City, said that Italy "needs to work together to ensure that this sort of intolerance doesn't repeat itself".
29 year-old Balotelli was born to Ghanian parents and raised just outside of Brescia, and has been a target of racist abuse throughout his whole career.
Following the events of the Verona game Balotelli took to Instagram to thank the Brescia fans for standing by him.
"Thanks to all the colleagues on and off the field for the solidarity expressed toward me and all of the messages received from you fans," Balotelli wrote in a message on Instagram alongside a video of the incident.
"A heartfelt thanks. You're real men, not like those who deny the evidence."
Balotelli is one of 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.
Featured Image Credit: PA Images