MILAN: A new row over Italian attitudes on discrimination in sport has erupted over comments by Arrigo Sacchi, former star coach of Milan and the national team.

Sacchi blamed “too many foreign players” and “too many black players” for a loss of national football identity.

His comments echoed remarks last year by Carlo Tavecchio, now president of the Italian federation, who referred disparagingly to “banana eaters” in discussing the same theme after the first-round World Cup exit.

Sacchi guided Milan to seven trophies at home and abroad between 1987 and 1991 and steered Italy to the 1994 World Cup Final, where they lost only on penalties to Brazil. He then had short spells at Atletico de Madrid and Parma as well as a stint as director of football at Real Madrid.

In an exchange during an awards ceremony, Sacchi said: “I am not a racist and my career as a trainer proves the point, starting with Frank Rijkaard, but in watching the Viareggio tournament it appeared there were too many coloured players, even in our youth teams. Business is what matters most nowadays.

“Italian football has no dignity or pride. You shouldn’t be able to see squads with 15 foreign players.”

Asked to explain his comments later, Sacchi insisted his words had been taken out of context.

He said: “All I said was that I had seen one team lining up four coloured players. My career tells its own story: I have always trained teams with many black players and have bought many, both in Milan and Madrid. I only wanted to underline that our football is losing its national identity.”

Last October Tavecchio was suspended for six months by European federation UEFA for his comments which had been uttered during his election campaign in the summer.

Internazionale were fined €50,000 in February 2013 after their fans were found guilty of racist abuse of ex-Inter striker Mario Balotelli in a derby against AC Milan. Two months later, Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng led his team-mates in walking off the pitch during a friendly against Pro Patria after he was abused by their fans.

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