Massimiliano Allegri explained his decision to leave Moise Kean out of the Juventus starting XI that faced Empoli over the weekend as a move to protect the player. “My challenge is to understand when he’ll recover from this crush that the media has on him right now,” said the manager. “If he doesn’t touch the ball in the next game, they’ll make him into a donkey.”
Kean came off the bench instead, scoring the game’s only goal with his first touch. Perhaps, after that, Allegri accepted that this hype train was already running beyond his control. Or maybe Juventus simply had too many injuries to leave Kean out of the side that lined up away to Cagliari on Tuesday night.
One way or another, the teenager started at centre-forward. Again, he delivered: arriving in the six-yard box to sweep home a low cross from Rodrigo Bentancur in the 85th minute to seal a 2-0 win. This was Kean’s fourth goal in as many appearances for club and country in the space of 11 days.
Wednesday’s newspapers, though, would not be dominated by headlines acclaiming his talent. Instead, reports of this game would largely focus on what came next. Kean celebrated his strike by running beside the goal to face Cagliari’s ultras in the Curva Nord of the Sardegna Arena. He raised his arms out to his sides, stood silently and stared.
He was reacting to abuse he had received during the game. Kean had been whistled and jeered throughout by a large section of the Cagliari’s support, but a smaller contingent had also targeted him with racist slurs. The latter element grew in number and volume as he stood. Monkey noises were heard plainly during the remaining minutes of the game.
Kean was no longer the only player reacting. The Cagliari captain, Luca Ceppitelli, implored the fans to stop. Kean’s teammate Blaise Matuidi argued with Allegri before seeking out the referee, Piero Giacomelli, and asking him to halt the game. A statement was made over the PA warning fans the match could be abandoned if the chanting continued, and was met with a chorus of boos.
Such dismal scenes were only compounded by what came next. Leonardo Bonucci – who had scored Juventus’s first goal – suggested during a post-match interview that the blame “should be split 50-50” between Kean and the supporters, since the forward had incited them with his celebration. “He needs to be contained,” said Bonucci, “and only think about celebrating with the team.”
Even leaving aside the hypocrisy of such a comment, from a player who marks his goals with a gesture inviting critics to ‘wash their mouths out’, this felt staggeringly ill-judged. Bonucci claimed not to have heard any monkey noises prior to the goal, a line echoed by others. But even if there had been none to that point, since when does a provocative celebration justify racist abuse thereafter?
It is not the first time a Juventus player has been subject to such treatment at this stadium. If Matuidi seemed especially agitated in his reaction, it was likely because he had similar chants directed at him during a game away to Cagliari last January.
Back then, the Sardinian club responded with an apology on Twitter. It remains to be seen whether Kean will get the same, but early signs were not encouraging. Cagliari’s president, Tommaso Giulini, followed a similar logic to Bonucci in his post-game remarks, arguing that: “If [Federico] Bernardeschi had celebrated like that, the reaction would have been identical.
“Up to the moment of that goal, nothing had happened. Kean made a mistake with his celebrations, but there’s no problem: he’s 19 years old.”
Even Allegri was equivocal in his remarks. He spoke about Kean needing “to mature,” though it was unclear whether his thought in this moment was on the celebration so much as incidents during the game. Before the goal, it had been a mixed performance from the teenager, who created chances for himself but also spurned several and picked up a yellow card for diving.
He also got some rough treatment from his opponents. Charalampos Lykogiannis could easily have been given a second booking for clattering Kean into the advertising hoardings, and Fabio Pisacane ought to have at least received his first for a foul on the same player moments before.
Pressed on the chants specifically, Allegri claimed not to have heard things well since he was concentrated on the match. “In certain situations, maximum intelligence is required. Matuidi and Kean certainly had that,” he continued. “On the celebration, there is something to be said. First of all: you should not instigate after scoring.
“Then, the problem is the same one as always: the chants are not from the whole stadium. There are imbeciles at football games like there are in everyday life. There are TV cameras here, so they should be found and dealt with. There is no sense talking on and on about it, it’s a very simple thing to do: find them and thrown them out. The tools are there, the problem is that nobody wants to do it.”
On the latter point, it is hard to disagree. There is no straightforward way to eliminate racism from Italian football stadiums at a time when it is endemic in society and even the national political discourse. But identifying and punishing individuals responsible seems like a pretty obvious place to start.
It is hard to feel optimistic about any positive steps being taken, however, when even teammates cannot be relied upon to stick up for a player who has been racially abused. Allegri had been sensible to highlight the importance of shielding Kean from media’s fickle obsessions. It would behove him to consider, though, that a teenager also deserves to be defended in the face of much worse things besides.