Mario Balotelli has had his fair share of criticisms in the past, but his latest comes from a rather surprising figure in the form of the mayor of Verona Flavio Tosi.
Hellas Verona return to the Serie A this weekend 11 years since their last match in Italy’s top flight, taking on Balotelli’s AC Milan at home, and Tosi has claimed that any chants or abuse aimed at Balotelli from rival fans are due to the striker’s attitude in winding them up first.
"Mario is a troublemaker,” said Tosi. “There are lots of black players (in Italy), and those who don't wind up opposition fans don't have any problems."
Tosi represents the separatist Northern League party, which has been overshadowed by a racism storm in recent times, and his comments came in an interview with Radio Sportiva.
"Balotelli is a formidable player... but he knows how to be irksome when he's out on the pitch, and that exasperates people. He even managed to have issues with Chievo fans, who most certainly are not racist,” he added.
However, Tosi firmly backed the punishments for racial abuse towards players, claiming that closing sections of the stands or even the whole stadium is a good approach and should be implemented if required.
Both Lazio and Roma will have to play matches with certain fans sections closed in the Olympic Stadium in Roma, after incidents of racist chanting occurred in previous fixtures.
"If chants come from four idiotic individuals then it's right to close the sector. If it's the whole stadium at fault then it's correct to close the entire ground," the Italian newspaper Gazzetta Dello Sport quoted Tosi as saying.
His party has been involved in a series of recent racial scandals, and Tosi was the only Northern League politician to publicly apologise to Italy’s Minister for Integration Cecile Kyenge for comments made by the Senate vice-president and fellow party member Roberto Calderoli, in which he said Kyenge looked like an orangutan.
Balotelli has been victim of racial abuse in the past, with sets of fans from Fiorentina and Roma aiming chants towards him as well as his former club Inter Milan earlier this year.