Brescia president Massimo Cellino has found himself in the headlines once again after controversially referring to Mario Balotelli's rocky situation at the club as "black".
Balotelli had been dropped for the Serie A side's clash with Roma on Sunday following a training ground incident that saw coach Fabio Grosso kick the striker out of the session, with Grosso hinting later at a press conference that his charge simply was not putting in enough effort.
“I demand great intensity and a high tempo in my training sessions,” the Italian said at the time. “When that doesn't happen, I prefer to change and make the session tougher. He didn't do that and was set to one side. At a certain point, he has to help himself.”
Appearing on Monday at a Serie A assembly, however, Cellino was asked to comment on the former Inter man's situation, and sparked controversy due to the choice of words used.
“What do you want me to say about him,” the president began. “He's black. He's working to lighten up but he's having difficulty. We can't think that one player alone will save the squad. That would be wrong for the team.”
The debate arose out of Cellino's use of 'nero', a word that could mean 'gloomy' as well as 'black', while 'schiarirsi' can be interpreted as 'lighten up' as well as 'clear up'.
Cellino's comments come just weeks after Balotelli was subject to racist abuse from Hellas Verona supporters, with the ex-Manchester City star visibly angry as he kicked the ball towards the fans in question and had to be stopped from storming off the pitch.
With racism in Italian football seemingly becoming more of an issue in recent times, press immediately jumped on Cellino's perceived gaffe, while the club itself did little to help the situation in a statement released shortly after the comments were made, claiming that the former Leeds United owner's words were merely a misunderstood joke.
“Regarding the quotes released this afternoon by President Massimo Cellino, referring to our player Mario Balotelli, Brescia clarify that they were a paradoxical joke, clearly misunderstood, released in the attempt to defuse excessive media exposure and to protect the player.”
To potentially make matters worse regarding the spirit around the club as a whole, Cellino also called out coach Grosso for not handling the situation as well as he could have.
“The coach was wrong because he only spoke about Balotelli and not the team,” he said. “I bought him because I felt that he could add value; instead he is becoming a point of weakness for overexposure in the media.
“He must respond on the field and not on social media, but he isn't the scapegoat for the difficulties the team finds itself dealing with.”