Ezequiel Lavezzi and his Chinese Super League club Hebei CFFC have made public apologies after the Argentina international was photographed making a racist gesture by apparently making his eyes look more Chinese.
The photograph, which was taken ahead of the current league season during the team’s training camp in Spain in February, was heavily criticised after it appeared online at the end of last week, and both the club and the player moved to diffuse the situation on Sunday evening.
“We were given instructions by the official photographer and I was trying to make some interesting photos by making some funny faces, which would be used afterward for entertainment purposes,” said Lavezzi, who joined Hebei from Paris Saint-Germain in February 2016.
“I had no intention of insulting the Chinese people and did not do it with any bad intentions.
“I’m very happy to be here as part of the Hebei club. I have had a great time here with my teammates and it has been a great journey. Every Chinese person around me is friendly and I love my life here.
“I deeply apologise if this photo has offended the Chinese public and fans. I will be more careful in the future.”
It has recently been reported that Lavezzi is the highest-paid player in world football but his impact on Chinese football so far has been limited as injury disrupted his first season with the club.
The 32-year-old has been more impressive in recent weeks, however, and has scored three times in the past three games, including his side’s solitary goal in their 1-1 draw with Guangzhou R&F on Friday.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team are fourth in the standings, six points behind leaders Guangzhou Evergrande, after a slow start to the campaign.
“Since joining us at the beginning of 2016, Lavezzi has been getting along very well with the team and been loved by fans too,” the club’s official statement said.
“He has expressed his love for China many times too. Now we have communicated with him and have clarified he had no bad intentions and he deeply apologised for any offense caused.
“As a club we apologise for our neglect in our work. We will be more careful in the future.”
Michael Church has written about Asian football for more than 20 years and mainly covers the Chinese game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @michaelrgchurch