VERONA, Italy (AP) — Brescia striker Mario Balotelli threatened to leave the field due to racist chants directed at him by Hellas Verona fans during a top-tier soccer game in Italy on Sunday.
Visibly upset as he fought for the ball near the corner flag at the end of the stadium where the monkey chants were emanating from, Balotelli interrupted the action, picked up the ball with his hands and angrily drop-kicked it high into the stands to vent his frustration.
Brescia teammates and Verona players went over to embrace Balotelli and persuaded him to stay as the referee ordered a warning to be read out over the stadium’s public address system.
Verona coach Ivan Juric said he didn’t hear any racist chants.
“There was absolutely nothing,” Juric said. “There were a lot of whistles every time he had the ball but not racism. I didn’t hear a single (chant).”
The match at the Bentegodi stadium was suspended for several minutes with Verona leading 1-0 at the time before it resumed.
It was the second time this weekend that a Serie A game was suspended for offensive chants, after Roma supporters aimed anti-territorial chants at Napoli on Saturday.
Balotelli, who is black, was born in Italy to Ghanaian immigrants and has represented Italy’s national team. He recently returned to Serie A after several seasons in France.
The 29-year-old Balotelli also experienced racism at the beginning of his career in Italy, when he rose to prominence with Inter Milan.
Verona went ahead 2-0 before Balotelli scored for Brescia and the game ended 2-1.
Balotelli also hit the post in the first half of one of his best performances since joining Brescia — his hometown club — in August.
Considering his physique, technical ability and qualities as a finisher, Balotelli is potentially one of the world’s best strikers but his on-the-field achievements have often been overshadowed by his antics on and off the field.
During his time at Manchester City, where he won the league title, Balotelli was sent off four times, threw a dart at a youth-team player and was involved in an incident that saw fireworks explode in his bathroom. After scoring against Manchester United, he revealed a T-shirt under his City jersey reading, “Why Always Me?”