Manchester City and Porto were embroiled in a furious war of words on Wednesday night after an extraordinary escalation in the ugly spat between the Champions League rivals.
Porto launched a blistering attack on the City players, Bernardo Silva and Fernandinho, and renewed criticism of manager Pep Guardiola in an official newsletter to their fans in the wake of their goalless draw in Portugal on Tuesday night.
Tensions had been running high between the teams after Guardiola was accused of trying to pressure referees and branded “extremely unpleasant” in a scathing rebuke by the Porto coach, Sergio Conceicao, after City’s 3-1 win at the Etihad Stadium last month.
And Porto ramped up their attack in their Dragoes Diario newsletter on Wednesday, claiming City were “lucky” to have avoided defeat this week, referencing Guardiola’s apparent “bad disposition” after the game and accusing Fernandinho, whom they claimed should have been sent off, of lacking “class”.
But the most provocative criticism was reserved for Bernardo. The newsletter claimed the City and Portugal playmaker - who used to play for Porto’s bitter rivals Benfica - was “known internationally for having been convicted of racism”, a reference to the one-match ban he received last year for a controversial Twitter post about team-mate Benjamin Mendy.
That claim, in particular, provoked outrage at City, who pointed out that Porto were fined for racism by Uefa in 2012 after some of their fans directed monkey chants at the former City players, Mario Balotelli and Yaya Toure, during a Europa League tie.
In a withering response to Porto’s claims, a City spokesperson said: “This is not the first time that Porto have reacted badly in circumstances like this.
“On this occasion, it is the ill-judged and targeted criticism of some of our individual players and indeed our manager, which we wholly reject.
“In 2012, the last season we encountered them, it was the denial by the club of clear racist behaviour of their fans for which they were investigated and fined. In this context, this latest outburst is almost as surprising as it is disappointing.”
The former City defender, Joleon Lescott, who played in that 2012 match alongside Balotelli and Toure and who currently works as the club’s loans manager, also hit back at Porto.
“Strange reading the statement from Porto the game looked comfortable to me,” Lescott tweeted. “Annoying part is the racism claim. No racism should be ignored and trying to deflect isn’t going to work. Clearly selective memory, I’m sure them receiving a fine for targeting Mario in 2012 just a memory.”
Strange reading the statement from Porto the game looked comfortable to me. Annoying part is the racism claim. No racism should be ignored and trying to deflect isn’t going to work. Clearly selective memory, I’m sure them receiving a fine for targeting Mario in 2012 just a memory pic.twitter.com/geHT8PBova
— Joleon Lescott (@JoleonLescott) December 2, 2020
Conceicao had stirred more ill-feeling after Tuesday’s game when, asked if Guardiola would be unhappy with the draw, the Porto coach replied: “I would be too if I couldn’t win with the team I have and the budget I have.”
The newsletter seized upon Conceicao’s words before broadening their attack on City after taking exception to Fernandinho criticising Porto’s perceived diving and claiming “they fall from all fouls and it seems they need to call the ambulance”.
“There should have been a red card given to Fernandinho, who despite being 35 is a clear example that football money counts a lot, but it doesn’t buy class or notion,” the newsletter read.
Porto - who were furious at City’s penalty award in their 3-1 win last month, feeling it should have been ruled out for a perceived foul by Ilkay Gundogan on goalkeeper Agustin Marchesin - claimed they should have been given a penalty of their own on Tuesday. “After the scandals of the game in England, this time a penalty was missed for Ederson’s more than evident foul on Otavio,” the newsletter added.
The newsletter then tore into Bernardo as part of a diatribe on the coverage Porto receive from “the Lisbon press”. “Hours before the meeting, another [television] station decided to launch a hobby (or a provocation?) by offering a shirt to an opponent of ours who is known internationally for having been convicted of racism,” it read. “At night, they had to be confronted with the reality that they do not like. It wasn’t just Pep Guardiola and Fernandinho who were unwell …”
Bernardo is one of four former Benfica players in City’s squad - goalkeeper Ederson and defenders Joao Cancelo and Ruben Dias also used to play for Porto’s rivals. Guardiola had dismissed before Tuesday’s game Conceicao’s claims that he exerts undue pressure on referees.
Conceicao had said last month: “I’ve got a lot to learn from Pep Guardiola, in the way he pressures referees, talks to opposition players and the opposition dugout. He’s a fantastic example. I have to learn this.
“He spoke about our country using ugly words. Guardiola’s attitude was extremely unpleasant.”