Manchester City forward tells Sky Sports: "I can see exactly the point where some people can get touchy-feely on it, but I feel in that situation Bernardo made a joke to his friend"
Sunday 29 September 2019 13:08, UK
Raheem Sterling has defended his Manchester City team-mate Bernardo Silva following accusations of racism, claiming it was a "situation between two friends".
Portugal international Silva has faced a backlash this week after comparing a picture of City team-mate Benjamin Mendy as a child to the cartoon logo of Spanish confectionery company Conguitos.
The racism row was compounded by an Instagram story posted by Silva last year, which has resurfaced, in which the midfielder says Mendy is "completely naked" - despite being fully dressed in black.
The FA has written to Manchester City to seek their observations as part of an investigation into Silva's social media activity.
Speaking after City's 3-1 Premier League win at Everton on Saturday evening, Sterling told Sky Sports: "It's a situation that no one needs at this moment in time. It's a situation between two friends, Bernardo and Mendy as everyone knows.
"I can see exactly the point where some people can get touchy-feely on it, but I feel in that situation, Bernardo made a joke to his friend.
"He's not referred to his skin colour, he's not referred to his lips in both pictures, they've both got small heads and the most important thing for me is that he didn't refer to a colour."
Silva tweeted the controversial photo on Sunday, believed to be of Mendy as a child, alongside the Conguitos logo with the caption "Guess who?"
The Portuguese later deleted the initial tweet, posting a second tweet which said: "Can't even joke with a friend these days... You Guys..."
Football's anti-discriminatory body Kick It Out condemned the tweet and called on the FA to take action.
But Sterling added: "We all know, Benjamin knows, everyone can see that Mendy is a black lad. We've got to be proud to be black as well. If someone refers to our skin colour with an image, I'd be upset about that - we know what skin colour we are.
"But he hasn't referred to his skin colour, that's the most important thing I feel about the situation. It's really sad to see someone like Bernardo, the whole week, be kind of down about it because he's not that way inclined.
"They're two really good friends, it's sad to see, I can understand where the criticism has come but I don't feel it was intentional of trying to be racist and that's not because they're my team-mates, it's just how I view them.
"Bernardo's deeply sorry about it, he's not in the wrong for me, but at the same time I can see why people think it's wrong and we've got to be smarter on social media. In this day and age, anything you say can be judged and it's a really sad situation.
"I haven't really been looking into the newspapers. I've seen the situation but the club, as I always would believe, would handle the situation right and I feel the sooner the better the FA can understand there was no intent to be discriminatory, there's not one moment he uses a negative term to talk about his skin colour.
"He tried to make a joke, it wasn't the best one but we've got to move on and understand that it wasn't intentional."
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was also asked once more about the controversy following his side's win at Goodison Park.
"I don't think Bernardo has to learn," he said. "He made a fair statement to the FA and said it wasn't intentional, it was a joke, but if someone could be offended, he apologised.
"But it's so tough with people in the media saying he's racist. I would not like to be accused of that kind of thing because it's not true. Mendy is like a brother for him. He's a real friend. I think Mendy was clear, he's an exceptional person.
"We must fight every single day against discrimination, racism, sexual abuse and all bad things. It's not just one day making a statement but every single day in our society you must fight it. But be careful because you are accusing the one person, who is exceptional, of something he's not.
"He has a family so that's why it's really unfair. I'm so disappointed about the way they treat Bernardo. When something is bad, we have to do it and we have to fight about that, but they are fighting the wrong person."
In response to Guardiola's latest comments, former Everton striker Victor Anichebe told Sky Sports: "I don't think he's handled this well. You can't just keep telling us that it's a joke between friends.
"It shouldn't be a joke in the first place. You're not supposed to post this in public. Once you do that, it makes others feel they have the right to make the same jokes.
"It's just not right what he's saying, and I don't feel they've done enough as a club to really address it.
"The only way we're going to have change is through unity - there's no point in it just being black players who come out and say it's wrong or feel aggrieved by certain situations.
"It's not funny, and you can't joke about these things with me."