Corriere dello Sport claimed to be victim of a "lynching" over its controversial "Black Friday" headline as editor Ivan Zazzaroni suggested some clubs had expressed support.

The Italian sports publication sparked outrage when it used the term on Thursday's front page to accompany images of Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling.

The former Manchester United team-mates are set to square off in a Serie A fixture between Inter and Roma on Friday.

Inter striker Lukaku called it the "dumbest" headline he had ever seen and Smalling labelled it "highly insensitive".

But after hitting out at social media and criticism and declaring its "innocent" intentions, Corriere refused to backtrack with its next edition.

Friday's headline read: "Racist to whom? Lynching of a newspaper that has been defending freedom and equality for a century".

The front page included a collage of past headlines condemning racism and an editorial from Zazzaroni that insisted "Black Friday" was meant to be a celebration of diversity.

Roma and Inter's city rivals Milan responded by banning the newspaper from speaking to their players and attending training sessions for the remainder of 2019.

In an appearance on Telelombardia, Zazzaroni said: "The other clubs have expressed solidarity. I don't have to justify myself. In the newspaper we did many articles on the fight against racism.

"The headline has been explained and clarified. It was a pun on two champions of anti-racism.

"Lukaku's agent [Federico Pastorello] even said that there was an association with other [newspapers] with the aim of debasing both players.

"Let's say that the exchange between me and Pastorello wasn't very uplifting."

Racism controversies have plagued Italian football this season. Lukaku and Brescia's Mario Balotelli were separately subjected to taunts from supporters during matches in September and November.

Serie A clubs recently signed an open letter vowing to address the issue of racism within the Italian game, with football authorities criticised for not doing enough to punish examples or racial discrimination at matches.

Roma and Milan have banned Corriere dello Sport from their training grounds and told players not to speak to the newspaper for the rest of the year.

On Thursday, the Italian sports daily published the headline 'Black Friday' – accompanied by pictures of Roma's Chris Smalling and Inter's Romelu Lukaku – ahead of the Serie A clash between the two sides.

The headline was widely criticised as being racial insensitive, with Smalling and Lukaku both expressing disappointment.

However, Corriere dello Sport's editor described the headline as "innocent" and insisted the words reflected "the pride of difference, the wonderful wealth of difference", adding: "If you don't get it, it is because you can't or you don't want to."

The clubs announced their sanctions against the newspaper in a joint statement.

It read: "We believe that players, clubs, supporters and the media must be united in the fight against racism in football and we all have a responsibility to be very precise in the words we choose and the messages we deliver.

"In response to the 'Black Friday' headline published by the newspaper, Roma and Milan have decided to ban Corriere dello Sport from our training facilities for the rest of the year and our players will not carry out any media activities with the newspaper during this period.

"Both clubs are aware that the actual newspaper article associated with the headline did portray an anti-racist message and for this reason, we have only banned Corriere dello Sport until January. We remain totally committed to tackling racism."

Chris Smalling has said Corriere dello Sport's editors must "take responsibility" for the newspaper's 'Black Friday' headline, which he has described as "wrong and highly insensitive".

Smalling, who has excelled on loan at Roma from Manchester United this season, was featured on the front page of Thursday's edition of the Italian publication, alongside his former team-mate Romelu Lukaku.

The headline – referencing the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States when retail sales mark the start of the Christmas shopping period – was used apparently in reference to the skin colour of both Smalling and Lukaku ahead of Roma's clash with Serie A leaders Inter on Friday.

The newspaper's choice has been widely criticised, with Roma, who along with the rest of Serie A's clubs recently demanded authorities do more to tackle racism in Italian football, among those to express disappointment.

Smalling has now responded, with the defender posting on his official Twitter account: "Whilst I would have liked to spend the day focusing on the big game tomorrow, it is important that I acknowledge that what occurred this morning was wrong and highly insensitive.

"I hope the editors involved in running this headline take responsibility and understand the power they possess through words, and the impact those words can have.

"A big shout to Roma for the support! Now let the battle commence Rom, daje Roma!"

Lukaku also reacted, labelling the newspaper's headline as the "dumbest" he has ever known.

He wrote: "Instead of focusing on a battle between two teams.. Corriere dello Sport comes with the most dumbest of headlines I have ever seen in my career.

"You guys keep fuelling the negativity and the racism issue. Instead of talking about the beautiful game that's going to be played at San Siro between two great clubs.

"Education is key. You guys of Corriere dello Sport should do a better job at that."

Earlier on Thursday, Corriere dello Sport's editor described the headline as "innocent".

The newspaper said the headline reflected "the pride of difference, the wonderful wealth of difference", adding: "If you don't get it, it is because you can't or you don't want to."

Lukaku's agent, Federico Pastorello, hit out at the publication and acknowledged Italian football has issues with racism within the game. Pastorello said it was also a wider cultural problem in Italy.

Romelu Lukaku's agent Federico Pastorello has condemned newspaper Corriere dello Sport and acknowledged Italian football has an issue with racism.

Lukaku and former Manchester United team-mate Chris Smalling featured on the front page of Thursday's issue of the popular newspaper, which printed the headline "Black Friday" ahead of Inter's meeting with Roma in Serie A.

The headline has been widely criticised, and it follows on from numerous examples of racist behaviour across Italian football this season – with Lukaku having already been a victim of such abuse earlier in the campaign.

While Italy struggles with uncomfortable questions regarding cultural issues of discrimination, Pastorello believes the country has ingrained problems with racism.

"Being Italian I'm really ashamed to read a title like that, but I really don't want to talk about a single episode," Pastorello told Sky Sports.

"At the end of the day, the racist problem is a big problem. Unfortunately we are living in 1920. It's really a culture problem.

"Being an agent, we are trying to protect our clients from this huge problem, because it's not only a newspaper but it's a problem you can breathe in the stadium, in social media, on the street. I think it's a problem that is a culture problem.

"What I would like and wish for the future is institutions could take it more serious. There were some episodes in Champions League recently, also in Serie A games and the institution did not take so seriously the problem.

"[Lukaku] is very sensitive on this problem. I like his attitude because he's facing it every time with strength and power. For sure he is not happy about that, but he's strong enough to face it."

Corriere dello Sport's editor, however, has described the headline as "innocent".

The newspaper said its choice of words reflected "the pride of difference, the wonderful wealth of difference", adding: "If you don't get it, it is because you can't or you don't want to."

Serie A clubs recently signed an open letter vowing to address the issue of racism within the Italian game, with football authorities criticised for not doing enough to punish examples or racial discrimination at matches.

Corriere dello Sport's controversial "Black Friday" headline focusing on Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling proves the media is a part of Italy's discrimination problem, according to anti-racism campaigners Kick It Out.

With Inter and Roma set to tussle in Serie A this Friday, the sports publication previewed the contest on its front page on Thursday.

But the prevalence of "Black Friday" – a term used to describe the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States when retail sales mark the start of the Christmas shopping period – saw the publication focus on the reunion of former Manchester United team-mates Smalling and Lukaku, and specifically the colour of their skin.

Roma, Inter and Milan were among the clubs to condemn the actions of Corriere dello Sport, which defended its headline as being "innocent", adamant the story "is transformed into poison by those who have poison in themselves".

Troy Townsend, head of development for equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out, said errors in judgement help to normalise discrimination in Italy, a country that has been dogged by incidents of racism this season.

Speaking to Omnisport, Townsend said: "We're not shocked, are we? We've seen a number of incidents in Italy this season alone.

"If we talk about Lukaku himself and the abuse he received at Cagliari, Mario Balotelli again – what he had to do through anger, through frustration, in kicking the ball into the crowd and attempting to walk off a football pitch. Then he had his own president [Massimo Cellino] talk about him in the way he did, saying he was ['black and is working on lightening up'].

"This is symptomatic of the issues and the problems that still exist in Italy. While we thought it was an issue for the federation, who allow racism in their stadiums and allow the very identity of black people to be dehumanised, questioned and devalued, we now realise again – like we have in the UK – that the press have a massive part to play in this as well.

"By choosing two black players and using that headline 'Black Friday'… their [Corriere dello Sport's] statement, you're not kidding anybody here.

"Ultimately, that is a racist act that's been put out publicly that many people will glorify on and chuckle with. That's my massive issue – you're influencing the masses with whatever you put out, front page or back page.

"The people they should go and ask how they feel are Lukaku and Chris Smalling. I can guarantee both of them will tell whoever it needs to be as it is and not be led by a limp statement afterwards."

Inter head coach Antonio Conte has confirmed he turned down the chance to join Roma earlier this year.

Conte was linked to Roma before taking over at Inter and, ahead of a meeting between the two sides on Friday, revealed he held preliminary talks with the Giallorossi.

The move came in the off-season, before Conte knew of Inter's interest, but the former Chelsea boss decided the timing was not right.

Conte spoke to ex-Italy team-mate and Roma legend Francesco Totti about the position before Paulo Fonseca was appointed in June 2019.

Totti, who spent his entire playing career with Roma, was a director at the club until he resigned the same month as Fonseca was installed.

Conte told a news conference: "With Francesco, there is a long-standing friendship. He explained the situation to me and told me about the possibility of Roma.

"I made an assessment in a very calm manner and thought it was not the right time. 

"At that moment, however, an offer from Inter was not there. There were no other teams. I made my evaluation and I decided to decline the proposal in a very respectful manner. 

"I know it's a huge club, but it wasn't the time. Maybe in the future."

Conte has been impressed by the job Fonseca has done at Roma, who are fifth in the Serie A table and nine points behind leaders Inter.

"He is demonstrating his qualities after his time in Ukraine [with Shakhtar Donetsk]," Conte added.

"Here, you have to settle in, your opponents study you and prepare very well to stop you. He brought an idea and also used it in Serie A. 

"Roma deserve compliments. They have a competitive squad made up of experienced players and very good talents.

"They are in a great moment of form. Roma have a maturity, strength and knowledge which will force us to show them respect."

Meanwhile, Roma have been boosted by the availability of striker Edin Dzeko for the match.

The 33-year-old Bosnia international had been struggling with a bout of flu but will be in the squad that travels to Milan for the clash at San Siro.

Fonseca said: "He missed the last couple of sessions but Edin trained with the group today – he's fit to play."

Italian newspaper Corriere dello Sport has defended its "Black Friday" headline ahead of Romelu Lukaku's reunion with former team-mate Chris Smalling as "innocent".

Inter and Roma face each other on Friday in a match that will see two of Serie A's form teams clash.

But "Black Friday", a term used to describe the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States when retail sales mark the start of the Christmas shopping period, saw the publication focus on the meeting of former Manchester United colleagues Smalling and Lukaku, both of whom are black.

The front-page splash has attracted widespread criticism, with Roma, Inter, Milan and Fiorentina among those to respond.

But Corriere has hit back with a remarkable defence, adamant those criticising the article do so because it is they who are bigoted. The publication claims the headline was designed to hail diversity.

"Digital platforms? I'd rather say rubbish bins," Corriere wrote of social media, where much of the criticism has originated. "Made up by noble grudges and cheap disdain. A good thought a day turns the doctor away.

"Armies of conformist people surf around the web these days just to paint their good souls whiter. Once the daily racist is spotted, there you go, a handful of strikes to the keyboard and the stain fades away. You feel a better man in a better world. White, black and yellow.

"The denial of the difference is the macroscopic typical mistake of the racism hidden within the anti-racism movements. The mental rabble of the Sunday moralist, and even a Thursday is a Sunday.

"'Black Friday', for he who wants to and can understand, is only the praise for difference [diversity], the pride of difference, the wonderful wealth of difference. If you don't get it, it is because you can't or you don't want to.

"[It was] an innocent headline, so perfectly explained by Roberto Perrone [the author of the article], is transformed into poison by those who have poison in themselves."

Inter have stated "we are and always will be opposed to any form of discrimination" amid an Italian newspaper sparking a racism storm with a controversial front-page headline.

Corriere dello Sport previewed the upcoming Serie A game between Inter and Roma with a front-page "Black Friday" headline between images of Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling, a choice of wording that has attracted widespread criticism.

"Black Friday", a term used to describe the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States when retail sales mark the start of the Christmas shopping period, saw the publication focus on the reunion of former Manchester United team-mates Smalling and Lukaku, both of whom are black.

Roma quickly criticised an editorial decision they suggest "not a single soul" would find appropriate, and rival Serie A clubs, including Inter, subsequently reacted.

Corriere issued a statement insisting the headline was not racist, claiming it had been "transformed into poison by those who have poison in themselves".

Inter posted to their official Twitter page: "Football is passion, culture and brotherhood. We are and always will be opposed to any form of discrimination."

Anti-discrimination body FARE posted a screenshot of Corriere's front page with the caption: "The media fuels racism every day."

Milan and Fiorentina joined Roma and Inter in commenting on the headline.

"It is totally unacceptable to see such casual ignorance on racism," Milan said. "We will not stay silent on this issue."

Fiorentina shared the image with a facepalm emoji and a single word: "Speechless."

A series of incidents have blighted Italian football this season, with Lukaku, Mario Balotelli and Franck Kessie each targeted for racist abuse.

All 20 Serie A clubs last week united to call on fans to support them in an anti-racism drive after admitting to a "serious problem".

Roma have criticised an Italian newspaper for previewing their upcoming Serie A game against Inter with a "Black Friday" headline between images of Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling.

Corriere dello Sport dedicated its front page to the contest between two of Italy's form teams, but their headline choice has attracted widespread criticism.

"Black Friday", a term used to describe the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the United States when retail sales mark the start of the Christmas shopping period, saw the publication focus on the reunion of former Manchester United team-mates Smalling and Lukaku, both of whom are black.

Roma – who Smalling is playing for on loan – brought the headline to the attention of their followers on Twitter, posting a screenshot of the offending front page and suggesting "not a single soul" would find Corriere's editorial decision to be appropriate.

Inter striker Lukaku and Smalling have been leading stars for their respective teams this season, but the headline is the latest in a series of incidents to have blighted Italian football this season.

Belgium international Lukaku, who is of Congolese descent, was subjected to racist abuse by Cagliari fans in September.

Milan's Franck Kessie was targeted for similar abuse at Hellas Verona later that month, before Smalling called for stronger punishments for racism in October.

Last month Brescia's Mario Balotelli reacted to monkey chants away to Verona by kicking a ball into the stands, while in an unrelated incident the club's president Massimo Cellino was criticised for racially insensitive comments about the Italy striker.

In relation to Balotelli being dropped from the first team, Cellino said: "What can I say? That he's black and he's working to whiten himself but he has great difficulties in this."

A statement from Brescia said the remarks were "clearly a joke said as a paradox" and a "clearly misunderstood... attempt to downplay an excessive media exposure and aimed at protecting the player". 

Arsenal have set their sights on Nuno Espirito Santo.

Incumbent head coach Unai Emery is running out of time and the Gunners are reportedly plotting to replace him.

Succession planning could result in a raid on Premier League rivals Wolves.

 

TOP STORY – NUNO THE NUMERO UNO FOR ARSENAL

Impressed with his work in the Midlands, Arsenal chiefs have identified 45-year-old Nuno as their preferred replacement for the under-fire Emery.

The Daily Mail reports Raul Sanllehi, the club's head of football, has a "long-standing relationship" with Nuno's agent Jorge Mendes and claims the former Porto boss is now the leading contender for the job.

Nuno guided Wolves to promotion from the Championship two seasons ago and achieved a top-seven finish last term.

ROUND-UP

- LaLiga rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid are monitoring Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's situation as the striker stalls on an Arsenal contract extension, says The Daily Star.

- Jorge Jesus has emerged as a candidate to replace Marco Silva at Everton. The former Sporting CP coach guided Flamengo to Copa Libertadores glory over the weekend and his name has been put forward at Goodison Park, reports The Telegraph.

- Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich have held fresh talks with Leroy Sane's agent but are unlikely to lodge a transfer bid for the Manchester City winger until the end of the season, according to Goal.

- On-loan Roma defender Chris Smalling's impressive adjustment to Serie A has inspired Juventus to make enquiries to Manchester United, reports Italian broadcaster Radio Radio.

- Zlatan Ibrahimovic's latest transfer hint might not be what it seems. ESPN suggests the Swedish free agent is considering investing in Hammarby, rather than playing for the Allsvenskan side. On Tuesday, Ibrahimovic tweeted an image of a Hammarby shirt sporting his name on the back, sparking rampant speculation.

Keeping faith with the under-fire Unai Emery could have serious ramifications for Arsenal.

According to reports, club chiefs fear key players will question their long-term futures if Emery remains in charge.

Two star attackers are already said to be stalling on new deals with Arsenal sliding down the Premier League.

 

TOP STORY – GUNNERS FEAR EXODUS

Arsenal are at risk of losing Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, according to the Daily Mail.

The newspaper reports the pair have shown little interest in signing contract extensions as a direct consequence of poor results and concerns over Emery's "conservative" methods.

Arsenal have failed to win any of their past six games in all competitions and are facing the prospect of another season outside the Champions League, a problem for the likes of Lacazette and Aubameyang.

 

ROUND-UP

- Marco Silva's position at Everton is in peril but he could remain in charge until after the Merseyside derby on December 4, according to the Daily Mail. The Toffees lie 16th in the Premier League following a 2-0 home loss to Norwich City.

- Watford boss Quique Sanchez Flores is likewise feeling the pinch. The Telegraph reports the Spaniard is "on the brink" of becoming the club's second managerial casualty of the season.

- Manchester United are set to trigger a 12-month extension to Timothy Fosu-Mensah's contract, claims The Sun. The Dutch defender is due to become a free agent at the end of the season.

- New MLS franchise Inter Miami are discussing the possibility of making Patrick Vieira their inaugural head coach, says CBS Sports reporter Roger Gonzalez. Vieira is currently in charge of Ligue 1 club Nice.

- Serie A side Roma are tracking Celtic midfielder Olivier Ntcham, according to Tuttomercatoweb. The French midfielder scored a vital Europa League goal against Lazio earlier this month and could be the subject of a January transfer bid from their Serie A rivals.

Everton manager Marco Silva is adamant Moise Kean will not leave the club in January.

The former Juventus striker's future has become a matter for speculation following his father's admission that moving to Goodison Park was a "mistake".

Kean has failed to score in his nine Premier League appearances and, according to reports, could be offered a return to Serie A when the transfer window reopens, with AC Milan and Roma rumoured to be potential destinations.

Silva, however, insists the teenager will be staying on Merseyside.

Asked about the prospect of a January exit, the Toffees boss told a news conference: "No, definitely not. It doesn't make sense for us.

"The situation with Moise Kean is the same as when we signed him. Nothing has changed.

"When we signed him we knew we were signing a player with talent who had good moments with his previous club at a high level, but in short periods of four or five starts for Juventus, and that coming to the Premier League would be completely different for him, even if he was coming from a high level.

"The time so far has proved all of that. We won't allow him to go. They are just rumours."

Kean, a full Italy international, scored twice for the Azzurri's Under-21s in a 6-0 win over Armenia during the week.

Silva has confirmed he will be in the squad when Everton host struggling Norwich City on Saturday.

Barcelona are preparing for next season and they have several players on their wish list.

The LaLiga leaders are enjoying a decent campaign in 2019-20, but they already have one eye on 2020-2021.

Inter's Lautaro Martinez, Bayern Munich's Joshua Kimmich and Fiorentina's Nikola Milenkovic are reportedly their main targets.

 

TOP STORY – BARCELONA TARGET MARTINEZ, KIMMICH AND MILENKOVIC

Martinez, Kimmich and Milenkovic are Barcelona's main targets ahead of 2020-21, according to AS.

If they miss out on Kimmich, they will look to RB Leipzig's Lukas Klostermann, the report says.

Meanwhile, Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen is another option, while Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a target if they cannot land Martinez.

ROUND-UP

- Mauricio Pochettino could be set for a quick return to management. Bayern Munich want to hold talks with the former Tottenham manager, according to The Telegraph.

- Could the impact of Jose Mourinho be felt at Tottenham already? Toby Alderweireld, who is out of contract at the end of the season, could stay at Spurs after Mourinho's arrival, The Telegraph also reports.

- Roma could extend Lorenzo Pellegrini's contract, but several clubs are interested in the midfielder. Manchester United, Tottenham, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter have shown some interest in Pellegrini, according to CalcioMercato.

- Marko Pjaca has failed to have an impact since his arrival at Juventus in 2016. CalcioMercato reports the Croatian attacker, who has already been on loan at Schalke and Fiorentina since his arrival in Turin, could be set for another spell away from Juve in January.

- Chelsea have a target in January if their transfer ban is overturned. The Premier League giants have been monitoring CSKA Moscow striker Fedor Chalov, according to Sky Sports. The 21-year-old scored 15 Russian Premier League goals last season and has five in 16 games in 2019-20.

Nicolo Zaniolo said he is "very happy" at Roma amid links to Premier League giants Manchester United.

Zaniolo signed a long-term contract with Roma through to June 2024, but it has not stopped speculation over his future.

The 20-year-old Italy international, who joined Roma last season, has reportedly attracted interest from United.

But Zaniolo wants to repay the confidence shown in him by Serie A side Roma.

"The minimum objective this season is to improve day by day. We want to win every game. The objective is qualifying for the Champions League," Zaniolo told Sky Sport Italia.

"I'm very happy, Roma have given me so much confidence, now I'll repay it on the pitch. I'm proud to represent these fans, I feel very good here.

"The things Fonseca has to say, he says to your face. He's a very direct person and he’s helping me improve."

Zaniolo scored a brace in Italy's 9-1 demolition of Armenia in Euro 2020 qualifying on Monday.

At club level, Zaniolo has netted five goals in all competitions for Roma this term.

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