Mario Balotelli has found himself at the centre of a race-row at AC Milan, less than a week after joining the Italian club.
Paolo Berlusconi, Milan's vice-president and brother of club owner and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has been accused of using racist language towards the former Manchester City striker after a video emerged of the 64-year-old speaking at a political rally in Monza.
In the video posted on the website of La Repubblica, a Rome-based newspaper, Berlusconi is seen making a comment about Balotelli - which literally translates as 'the family's little n****r’, but is more commonly translated from Milanese dialect to mean 'the little black boy of the family'" - hours before the striker’s full debut against Udinese on Sunday.
The 22-year-old, who scored twice in that game at the San Siro, including a last-minute winner from the penalty spot to help the Rossoneri climb above rivals Inter Milan in Serie A, is yet to comment on the incident.
The controversial striker has previously been out-spoken in the fight against racism, and said he would 'kill' anyone who threw a banana at him during Italy's Euro 2012 campaign last summer, and threatened to walk off if he was subjected to racist chants during the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
In 2009, Balotelli was racially abused by Juventus supporters during Inter's 1-1 draw with the Turin-based club.
Regardless of Berlusconi's intentions, his comments come at a sensitive time for race relations in Italian football. The incident comes just weeks after AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng led his team off the pitch in the middle of a friendly against Pro Patria last month after being racially abused by the home crowd.
Former Sky Sports journalist and Italian-based football expert Roger Mitchell doesn't believe Berlusconi's comments were designed to be insulting or racist, and are at worst ignorant.
"I saw the clip and it was said in a pretty affectionate way," he told GiveMeFootball. "A bit snobby, but not racist. I wouldn't say it was the smartest PR move in the world after the Boateng incident, and in election season in Italy, but it's not registering even a peep here.
"There was much more commotion when Berlusconi said he would never sign Balotelli as he was a classic "bad apple" and would spoil the dressing room. A day later he signed him. That made the news."
Mitchell also explains that Berlusconi's choice of words are indicative of Italian culture as a whole, and shouldn't be viewed through the prism of English sensibilities.
He said: "What I think the UK misses, and this is because it follows the US, is that Europe is much, much less politically correct. Italy is the least of all.
"A fat person is fat, a handicapped person is a cripple, not diversely-abled. Blind is blind, not visually challenged. And black is black. Its not meant as an offence. Its factual."
Balotelli signed for AC Milan in a deal worth around £19 million during the January transfer window, agreeing a four-and-a-half-year contract with his new club. The controversial striker endured a tumultuous two-and-a-half year spell with Manchester City, who he joined from Inter Milan in 2010.
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