Gianluigi Buffon has dismissed reports there was a locker room bust-up after Juventus lost 1-0 at home to title rivals Napoli in Serie A on Sunday as "clearly false gossip" and "attempts to destabilize an environment and undermine the confidence and togetherness of the group," per an interview with Juventus TV (h/t the club's official website).
Buffon was said to be involved in a heated verbal exchange with centre-back Medhi Benatia following the match, according to Nicola Balice of Calciomercato.com. The rumoured spat came after Kalidou Koulibally had headed in a last-minute winner for Napoli.
His goal cut the gap to just one point, setting Napoli hot on Juve's trail with just four games left. Failing to see off Napoli's challenge at home set Buffon off, per Balice, with Benatia answering back amid criticism from the 40-year-old goalkeeper.
However, Buffon offered a different interpretation of events to his club's official television channel. The decorated stopper refuted the veracity of the reports while also elucidating a staunch defence of his team-mate:
"Nobody, at least in my 17 years at Juventus, has taken it upon themselves to point the finger at another team-mate, blaming them for a defeat, and this will never happen while I am captain of this team. I would like to add that Medhi is an extremely respectful, polite person, who is contributing to the cause and forms a part of this exceptional group. I'm sorry that I’m forced to raise these points, but I have to do it, because in the light of certain news stories, if not slanderous, at least false, I believe that a clarification is due to protect the group and Medhi, who is a fantastic guy."
Buffon and Benatia's involvement in yet more controversy is ironic since the pair were embroiled in a contentious event while on UEFA Champions League duty earlier this month.
Benatia conceded a stoppage-time penalty for a foul on Lucas Vazquez in the second leg of the quarter-final against Real Madrid. Referee Michael Oliver awarded the spot-kick, prompting a furious reaction from Buffon.
Cristiano Ronaldo eventually tucked away the penalty to send Juve out 4-3 on aggregate.
Afterwards, Buffon told Premium Sport (h/t FourFourTwo) Oliver must have a "trash can" in place of a heart. The 2006 FIFA World Cup winner later refused to apologise for his comments, per an interview with Le lene (h/t MailOnline's Jeorge Bird).
Buffon is set to retire at the end of the season, so he will naturally be anxious not to have his Italian top-flight career end in the kind of disappointment his stint in the Champions League did.
Juve will need to be as united as Buffon says if they are to hold off an exciting Napoli side and seal a seventh domestic title win in a row.