Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri has been banned for two games for firing homophobic slurs at Roberto Mancini during a touchline row in a Coppa Italia semi-final.
Sarri was in emollient and philosophical mood in his interview with the Italian magazine 'Chi'.
Mancini contended that Sarri had lobbed the words 'frocio' and 'finocchio' in his direction during the argument. Like many a politician, Sarri asserted that he misspoke and had meant to use the word 'fighetto' - a word which means 'show off' - but that the wrong word came out of his mouth.
He admitted to the lesser charge of being a potty mouth to escape the more damaging charge of homophobia.
I wanted to use the term ‘Fighetto’ – show-off – not something to do with sexual preference. The truth is, I am a proper Tuscan and I tend to swear a lot. I was wrong, I admit it.
In a heroic effort to put on a positive spin on the whole business, he said it might help people come out. And he insisted that there are gay players in professional football today.
There are no gays in football? No. There were, there are, and there always will be. I hope this whole incident, born badly and ended well, can help people move forward and come out into the open. At least at Napoli, there would be no problems with it.
Fair play to the earthy Mr. Sarri for admitting his mistakes.
The row was sparked by an innocent mistake by the fourth official who displayed nine minutes of injury time rather than the correct five minutes.
Mancini, with his team defending a lead, was inclined to question the nine minute tally. Sarri, his team scrambling to get back in the game, was minded to accept the fourth official's first answer.
Following the explosive row, Sarri was banished from the touchline.
Shaken by the incident, Mancini lambasted Sarri in an interview with RAI Sport, accusing the Napoli boss of letting fly with homophobic and racist epithets in their touchline bust-up.
He didn't specify the nature of the racist abuse.
In England, someone like him wouldn't even be allowed on the touchline. The confrontation of the touchline. You have to ask Sarri about that. He is racist.
People like him do not belong in football. He used racist words. I stood up to ask about the five minutes added on and Sarri shouted 'poof' and 'faggot' at me. I would be proud to be considered that if he is what's considered a man.
He is 60 years old. The fourth official heard but didn't say anything. He came to see me in the changing room to apologise but he should really be ashamed of himself.
Sarri was apologetic afterwards but did muster some small defence of his behaviour on the hardly compelling grounds that he had 'heard worse' on a football pitch and that these things should end once you leave the field.
I was fired up and angry, so I'm not sure what I said. I admit it wasn't the right tone to take. I was not discriminating against anyone. If I did indeed use those words then I apologise to the gay community.
Now people are calling me homophobic and other ugly things. It was the first word that popped into my mind. Next time I’ll call him a Democristiano (a Christian Democrat - a once powerful but now defunct Italian political party which collapsed after a massive corruption scandal in the early 1990s).
I have gay friends, so it’s not as if I’m homophobic…
Notwithstanding his large circle of gay friends, Sarri's denial of homophobia is rather undermined by his previous comments.
While manager of Empoli in early 2014, he offered this gloomy assessment of where the sport was going following a game against Varese.
Football has become a sport for fags. We suffered twice as many fouls, but we had more yellow cards. It’s a contact sport in Italy but the whistle is blown a lot more than in England because of the interpretation by homosexuals.
For his part, Sarri made an audacious bid for the moral high ground (this terrain may remain out of reach for him) by accusing Mancini of ageism.
The Inter manager had lobbed the phrase 'old git' into the mix during the confrontation.
He has since shelved his accusations of ageism.