Neymar and other leading Brazilian players leapt to the defence of their compatriot Vinicius Jr on Friday after the Real Madrid forward was advised to tone down his goal celebrations.
Vinicius has made a fast start to the season with five goals and three assists in all competitions but has infuriated opponents in LaLiga with his celebrations, which include dancing near the corner flag, reports Reuters.
The 22-year-old has been widely criticised in Spain but his international team mate Neymar, who plays for Paris St Germain, has encouraged him to express himself.
“Dribble, dance and be you! Happy just the way you are. Go for it my boy, next goal we dance,” Neymar wrote on Instagram.
Veteran Brazil centre back Thiago Silva also told Vinicius to keep dancing.
“Don’t let anyone take away your happiness,” he said.
A panellist on a Spanish soccer show said Vinicius was not respecting his opponents with his celebrations, comparing his behaviour to that of a monkey — which immediately sparked backlash on social media as it was construed as racist.
The panellist, Pedro Bravo, later took to Twitter to issue a clarification, saying he used the “monkey” expression to say Vinicius was “doing stupid things”.
“I want to clarify that the expression ‘playing the monkey’ that I have misused to qualify Vinicius’ goal celebration dance was done metaphorically,” he said.
“Since my intention was not to offend anyone, I sincerely apologize. I am sorry!”
Real Madrid issued a statement of support for Vinicius.
“Real Madrid would like to express its affection and support for Vinicius Junior, a player who regards football as an attitude towards life through joy, respect and sportsmanship,” the club said.
“Football is the most global sport there is and should be a model of values and coexistence.”
Vinicius was also backed by former Brazil great Pele.
“Football is joy. It’s a dance. It’s a real party. Although racism still exists, we will not allow that to stop us from continuing to smile,” Pele wrote on Twitter.
“And we will continue to fight racism this way: fighting for our right to be happy.”