AC Milan manager Stefano Pioli has defended striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic from accusations of racism following a clash with Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku during the midweek Coppa Italia quarterfinal clash.
The pair had to be separated after exchanging strong words on the pitch, with both receiving bookings. Ibrahimovic was later sent off when he picked up a second yellow card.
Ibrahimovic was accused of having used offensive language during his spat with Lukaku and later posted a message on social media reiterating he is against racism.
“I’ve been a player, too, so I understand these things can happen,” Pioli said in news conference ahead of Saturday’s Serie A clash with Bologna. “Of course, I don’t justify nor agree with [it].
“Ibra’s past shows us he’s clearly not racist, which is important. It’s also important to point out that Milan has always been on the front line when it comes to fighting against all type of discrimination.”
Both Ibrahimovic and Lukaku’s one-match suspensions were upheld by the league on Friday, with no bans added on for further disciplinary reasons.
Ibrahimovic’s suspension is because of the two yellow cards and his subsequent sending off during Tuesday’s game, while Lukaku’s suspension is for accumulated cards.
Ibrahimovic was also heavily criticised for leaving his side with 10 men. At the time of his red card, Milan were leading 1-0 but lost the match 2-1.
However, Pioli said criticism only fuels Ibrahimovic and motivates him more.
“Ibra and I haven’t really spoken,” Pioli said. “I feel he needs these types of situations to find more energy, more strength and even more determination if that’s possible.
“Ibra is calm and he is motivated as we all are. I am certain we can do well. He is sorry for his second yellow card and for leaving the side with 10 men. He is determined to get the best result possible [against Bologna].”
The red card means Ibrahimovic will be banned for the next Coppa Italia match he plays, which would be next season at the earliest, but he will still be available for the Serie A clash with Bologna.
The Italian federation prosecutor could still decide to open an investigation into the spat.