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Napoli’s Juan Jesus accuses Inter’s Francesco Acerbi of racist language: ‘He changed his version’ of events

Italian defender Francesco Acerbi is facing the possibility of a long-term suspension after he was accused by Napoli defender Juan Jesus of using a racist slur during Sunday’s Serie A match between Inter and Napoli. Juan Jesus was spotted on camera speaking to the referee Federico La Penna, pointing at the Keep Racism Out badge on his shirt alleging that Acerbi racially insulted him. 

After the match, Jesus spoke to DAZN and downplayed the incident. “What happens on the pitch, stays on the pitch. He apologized and we can move on. When the referee blows the whistle, it is all behind us. I know that Acerbi is a good man and he apologized, because he realized that he had gone a bit over the top with some words. He is an intelligent guy, so I hope he learns from it and won’t do it again.” 

However, on Monday, Acerbi gave a different account of events. Amid the fallout of the incident, he was removed from the squad for Italy’s upcoming friendlies. While returning from the Italian training camp he briefly spoke to the assembled press and denied using racist language. “I’ve never said any racist words, I am very calm. I have been playing football for 20 years and I know what I am saying. Many things happen on the pitch, many things can be said while playing. Then when the referee blows his whistle we shake hands and friends like before. There must be no racism anywhere in the world.” 

What is Acerbi accused of saying

After Acerbi made his claim, Juan Jesus fired back on social media, claiming that Acerbi wasn’t being truthful about what really happened.

“The matter had been closed for me on the pitch with Acerbi’s apology and frankly I would’ve preferred not to go back over the ignoble thing I had to deal with. However, today I read Acerbi statements that are totally in contrast with what really happened, with what he said yesterday on the pitch and the evidence also shown by footage with unequivocal lip-reading in which he asked for my forgiveness. I will not stand for this. Racism must be fought here and now. Acerbi told me ‘Go away you nero, you are just a n-gro.’ Following my protest to the referee, he admitted that he made a mistake and apologized, adding, ‘for me n-gro is just an insult like any other. Today he changed his version of events and maintains there was no racist insult. I have nothing to add.”

In the Italian language there is a big difference between “nero” and “n-gro.” The first one is widely used and not considered as offensive, while the second one is not accepted at all and considered a racial slur. Juan Jesus maintains Acerbi used both words. 

What happens next?

On Tuesday the Sports Judge took the expected step of demanding a supplementary investigation from the Federal Prosecutor regarding “possible racist remarks” made by Acerbi towards Juan Jesus. The Sports Judge clarified that the prosecutor could hear from both parties in the coming days, possibly as early as Wednesday. After that, the Sport Judge can suspend Acerbi for a wide range of games with La Gazzetta dello Sport claiming that Acerbi might be suspended for at least 10 Serie A matches. Such a punishment might mean the end of his 2023-24 season. It’s also not yet clear yet what the club will do with the Italian defender, who was signed permanently last summer from Lazio. Acerbi has a contract until the summer 2025, but considering how Inter have always treated issues in the past, no option can be ruled out, including possibly terminating his contract.

The National Team 

On Monday, the Italian FA announced the decision to replace Acerbi for the upcoming Italy games. 

“Francesco Acerbi, who arrived this morning at the national team training ground in Rome, explained to the coach Luciano Spalletti and his teammates, as required by the internal policy of Club Italia, his version of the alleged racist expression reported by the footballer Juan Jesus during of the Inter-Napoli game.

“From the Nerazzurri defender’s report, while waiting for what happened to be reconstructed in compliance with the autonomy of sporting justice, it emerged that there was no defamatory, denigrating or racist intent on his part. However, it was agreed to exclude Acerbi from the list of players called up for the next two friendly matches scheduled in the United States, to guarantee the necessary serenity for the national team and for the player himself, who will return to his club today. As a result, AS Roma defender Gianluca Mancini, who was already part of the pre-call list, was called up.” 

Italy coach Luciano Spalletti spoke during a press conference and also commented on the accusations against Acerebi.

“There is a statement that we made there, there are my thoughts. We decided to do it all together. I would never want to be in this position here, but we have the responsibility of a very important sport for our nation. And, given what has come out, we must necessarily act, even with things still to be clarified. From what Acerbi told me, there was no racism, but we need to be careful about our behaviors, everything we do and say.” 

With the investigation pending, his fate with the national team, and whether he should be involved and on the roster for Euro 2024 taking place this summer in Germany remains undecided. 

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