Inter Milan player Francesco Acerbi leaves Italy squad after allegations he used racist language

Inter Milan defender Francesco Acerbi has left the Italian national squad ahead of its two upcoming friendlies after he was accused of using racially charged language towards Napoli player Juan Jesus during a game on Sunday.

The alleged incident occurred during the second half of Inter Milan’s 1-1 draw with Napoli in Serie A, Italy’s top-flight league. Video footage shows Brazilian Jesus complaining to the referee and pointing at someone, before the official calls Acerbi over.

In an Instagram post Monday, Jesus accused his opponent of calling him “Black” in a derogatory fashion, but Acerbi has since denied using any racist language. The Inter Milan defender was not punished during the game.

Acerbi, who has played 34 times for Italy, had initially arrived at the national team’s training camp in Rome on Monday before the squad flew to the US on Tuesday, where it’s set to face Venezuela and Ecuador.

A statement from the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) said that Acerbi had spoken to national team manager Luciano Spalletti and his teammates to explain his version of events, and while the defender argued there was no “defamatory, denigrating or racist intent on his part,” it was agreed he should be left out of the squad “in order to let things settle for the national team and the player himself.”

The defender was replaced by Gianluca Mancini in Italy’s squad.

Acerbi, pictured here in October, 2023, has played 34 times for Italy. - Claudio Villa/Getty Images
Acerbi, pictured here in October, 2023, has played 34 times for Italy. - Claudio Villa/Getty Images

In a reported interview with Italian outlet Gazzetta dello Sport on Monday, Acerbi again refuted claims he used any racist remark.

“I have never said any racist phrase, I am very calm. I have been a professional for twenty years and I know what I am saying, not a single word of that like it came out of my mouth. It was him who misunderstood. I’m sorry to have left the national team,” Acerbi said.

However, Jesus said the 36-year-old Acerbi had apologized to him on the pitch after using racially charged language and was speaking up again after seeing that the defender was now denying it.

“Acerbi told me ‘go away Black, you’re just a Black’. Following my protest to the referee he admitted he had made a mistake and apologized to me, then also adding: ‘for me, Black man, it’s an insult like any other,’” Jesus said on Instagram.

“Today he changed his story and claims that there was no racist insult. I have nothing to add.”

CNN has reached out to Acerbi’s agent for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

In a club statement, Inter Milan said it was aware of Italy’s decision to let Acerbi go home, adding it “will meet with the player as soon as possible to shed light on the exact details of what happened.”

Serie A, Italy’s top-flight domestic league, said the case was being referred to the Italian Federal Prosecutor in order for a more in-depth investigation to take place.

CNN’s Antonia Mortensen contributed reporting.

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