Inter Milan manager Antonio Conte took aim at Italian fans over racism and a culture of insults, saying the situation regressed during his time away from Serie A.
The former Juventus, Chelsea and Italy coach faced the press ahead of Saturday's derby match against AC Milan, and he did not shy away from criticising his homeland, per Football Italia:
"Racism is a problem in Italy, but so is any kind of insult, and after three years away, I find Italy has regressed.
"People write exclusively to foment hatred. Italy has become far worse lately and we are all to blame. We're talking about something that educates the next generation to hate and engage in violence.
"In England, if two or three fans try something, they get put in prison and the key thrown away. Here, the fans go to the stadium exclusively to insult: the opposition, the players, people of another colour.
"It would be wonderful to see fans attend games just to cheer on their own team. Children ought to hear that instead of observing these hostile atmospheres that are right on the borderline."
Romelu Lukaku was the target of racist abuse during a 2-1 win over Cagliari earlier in September, facing monkey noises as he scored the winning penalty. Per sports writer Oluwashina Okeleji, the Sardinians have a lengthy history of abusing black players:
Oluwashina Okeleji @oluwashina
Oct 2010: Eto’o responded to racist chants from Cagliari fans by scoring in Inter’s 1-0 win. Apr 2017: Cagliari fans racially abused Muntari Jan 2018: Matuidi abused in Cagliari. Apr 2019: Cagliari fans racially abused Moise Kean. Sep 2019: Lukaku racially abused in Cagliari. https://t.co/5nNLQVacR0
The Italian Football Federation decided not to punish the club, however. Football Italia noted the same press release failed to mention a similar incident involving Milan's Franck Kessie and Hellas Verona fans altogether:
The Lukaku incident took another turn when Inter ultras defended the Cagliari fans. In a bizarre statement, they denied the abuse was racist in nature and said racism isn't a problem in the country, unlike in "north European countries."
Sports writer Siavoush Fallahi couldn't believe it:
Conte has made it clear he feels the same way, which will add yet another layer to what is already shaping up to be an intense derby.
The Nerazzurri lead the Serie A standings after three matches and have a shot at the title after an impressive summer. Lukaku headlined a transfer haul that also included Alexis Sanchez, Diego Godin, Nicolo Barella, Stefano Sensi and others.
Milan should provide Conte and his troops with their first real challenge of the Serie A season, having won two of their three matches.