The mayor of Verona has advised Mario Balotelli to keep himself to himself in Saturday’s Serie A opener between Hellas and AC Milan.
Balotelli told Sports Illustrated he will respond to any racial discrimination from the home fans in a professional way -- with goals -- but Flavio Tosi, the city’s mayor, says the forward could play his own part in preventing any unsavoury elements from ruining Hellas’ return to the top flight.
"If only Balotelli would be less provocative, it would be better for everybody," Tosi told Radio Sportiva. "There are lots of black players around and those who don't draw the fans' anger towards them never have problems. Balotelli is good at making himself disliked."
Fans of Hellas have gained a reputation in the past for being discriminatory and Saturday’s game is at high risk of disturbances, but Tosi says his club are doing all they can to stamp out what he says is a “minority” of troublemakers.
“Our club have always worked hard on improving the conduct of our fans, beyond those three or four idiots” he said. “If somebody misbehaves, then they would be in a minority”
Instead, Tosi hopes football will earn all of the headlines in Saturday evening’s Serie A clash at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi.
“We have suffered for 11 years to get back into Serie A and to return against one of the biggest clubs gives it an even sweeter taste,” he said. “Milan lost two titles in Verona and it is a game which everybody has strong feelings about. There’s antagonism and two big groups of fans with a history.”
Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri says it is all too easy to blame Balotelli for attracting racist comments without tackling the real reason.
“The problem of racism is not down to Mario, but instead it is due to a lack of culture from these people who go to the stadium and act in a certain way towards people with a different skin colour,” said the Milan coach at Friday’s pre-game press conference. “This is wrong.
“Balotelli is behaving well. Now and again he reacts out of frustration, but I think he has improved a lot and will improve even more. Verona is a very well cultured city and those who come to the stadium will be thinking purely of seeing a game of football, and hoping that it will be a beautiful one.”