Pep Guardiola has the backing of his Manchester City players after ignoring club bosses to launch a staunch defence of Bernardo Silva over allegations of racism.
Guardiola was told by senior communications staff not to comment after the FA launched an investigation into a Twitter post by the Portuguese midfielder which likened team-mate Benjamin Mendy to the black cartoon marketing mascot of a Spanish chocolate snack.
Silva deleted the tweet after his unfortunate attempt at making Mendy laugh fell flat last Sunday – but anti-racism body Kick It Out described it as “discriminatory.”
And Silva faces a minimum six-match ban if he is found guilty of making a racial slur.
City boss Guardiola felt compelled to speak out after seeing how the storm had affected the morale of Silva and the rest of his treble-winning squad.
Guardiola insisted that no offence was intended and then described Silva as “one of the most lovely people I have ever met in my life” when asked about the row following City’s 3-0 Carabao Cup win at Preston on Tuesday night.
The City boss leapt to the defence of the 25-year-old again on Friday afternoon, ahead of Saturday night’s 3-1 victory over Everton at Goodison Park.
After the game, Raheem Sterling emphasised how Bernardo has the full backing of his team-mates.
Sterling, the scorer of City’s third goal, said: “It’s a situation that no-one needs at this moment in time. It’s a situation between two friends.
“I can see the point where people can get touchy-feely about it, but I feel that the situation is that Bernardo made a joke to one of his friends.
“He hasn’t referred to his skin colour. In both pictures they have got small heads and at no point is there a reference to skin colour.
“Everyone can see that Mendy is black – and we have to be proud to be black. If someone relates skin colour to an image then you can be upset about it.
“It’s been really sad to see someone like Bernardo be down about it because he’s not that way inclined. I can see where the criticism comes from bit it was not in any way intentional. He wasn’t trying to be racist.
“I am not saying this because he’s my team-mate. It’s my view that there wasn’t anything in it. I think the club has handled the situation right. It wasn’t the best joke but we have got to move on.”
Sunday Mirror Sport understands that Guardiola spoke to both Silva and Mendy about the issue before speaking out on his player’s behalf.
His stance has the support of the rest of City’s squad – despite members of the club’s communications team urging him to keep quiet until the FA had concluded their investigation.
Silva is also being investigated over an earlier Instagram video in which he appears to poke fun at the colour of Mendy’s skin.
Mendy and Silva became close friends when they played together at Monaco.
Both men have written to the FA in a bid to explain that no offence was intended or suffered.
A decision on whether to charge Silva will be taken by Wembley bosses this week and could lead to City being left without one of their key performers for a hefty chunk of the season.
City have now reminded all their players that private jokes can become offensive when shared with the wider world on social media platforms.