Racism is a systemic issue in Italian football and authorities must do more to protect players, according to the Fare network.

Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was targeted by monkey chants as he prepared to take a penalty in a Serie A game away to Cagliari on Sunday.

Cagliari have a history of racist incidents, with Moise Kean, Blaise Matuidi and Sulley Muntari having previously received abuse.

Fare, an umbrella organisation which aims to combat inequality in football, called on Italian authorities to step up in the fight against racism.

"We have been appalled to see yet another incident of racism in Italy in the form of abuse aimed at Inter forward Romelu Lukaku at the Cagliari v Inter Serie A game," said a Fare statement.

"The abuse directed at Lukaku is one in a long list of incidents in Italian football over the past year and highlights the repeated failure to protect minority players and to tackle what is a systemic issue in Italian football.

"Sunday's events have followed a familiar pattern in Italy in which players are abused, the referee fails to protect them and the authorities take insufficient action.

"The response from Cagliari, the Italian FA and Inter ultras has been to deny its significance and take ineffective action.

"Videos circulating on social media show that monkey chants are clearly audible. The Italian FA and Serie A have this footage, it is clear evidence and the basis on which to take action that sends a strong message.

"We believe that dealing with racism should be a priority for the Italian FA. A plan of action monitored by international governing bodies UEFA and FIFA is needed. If such a plan is not developed they should face special measures and ultimately suspension."

Lilian Thuram and Vincent Kompany are among those to have spoken out in support of Lukaku since the incident.

Vincent Kompany believes football must ensure diversity at administrative levels if it is to effectively address the problem of racism.

Kompany's Belgium team-mate Romelu Lukaku was the target of racist chanting during Inter's 2-1 Serie A win at Cagliari last weekend – the latest in a succession of recent incidents that have seen players abused due to the colour of their skin.

With a number of the recent flashpoints having occurred online, Twitter issued a statement on Tuesday detailing meetings with English players' union the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), anti-discrimination group Kick It Out and clubs of players affected, while pledging to curb "unacceptable behaviour" on its site.

However, Kompany feels problems will continue to fester so long as the football bodies handing out punishments for racist behaviour do not effectively represent different ethnicities.

"Romelu is a victim of something disgraceful. Something that should never happen, not just in a football stadium but in society," the Anderlecht player-manager told Sky Sports News.

"Really, if you go back to who we are now expecting decisions from – the institutions - that is where the problem lies.

"The real racism lies in the fact that none of these institutions have representatives who can really understand what Romelu is going through.

"You're dealing with a crowd of people and decision-makers who are all trying to explain to Romelu how he should think, how he should feel about this, when you actually have no decision-makers who are remotely in touch with what he's experienced in his life.

"That's the real issue when you go through the board of UEFA, the Italian league, English league, everywhere.

"There is a true, true problem of diversity and, as long as you don't have diversity in places of power and in boardrooms, you cannot have the right decisions in terms of sanctions."

Kompany was speaking ahead of his testimonial at Manchester City next Wednesday, where Arsenal and France great Thierry Henry has become the latest player confirmed as part of the Premier League All-Stars XI.

A City side featuring David Silva and Sergio Aguero will be led by Kompany and contain a host of the long-serving captain's ex-team-mates, with all proceeds to be donated to the Tackle4MCR homelessness charity.

In the meantime, the 33-year-old has been adapting to his first managerial assignment with boyhood club Anderlecht.

It has proved a tough introduction to top-level coaching, with Kompany forced to wait until the 1-0 weekend win over rivals Standard Liege – a game he missed due to a hamstring strain – to taste victory for the first time.

"It was a good win," he said. "It's our version of the Clasico.

"The fans have been waiting for it patiently. [We have had] Good football and no results but now we've got good football and results. Everybody's happy."

Lilian Thuram has questioned whether football chiefs will ever back up outraged words with firm actions after Inter striker Romelu Lukaku became the latest player to suffer racist abuse.

World Cup winner Thuram says a culture of white supremacy is the underlying cause of the spate of racist incidents blighting football.

As well as incidents in stadiums, a rising tide of social media abuse of black players has tarnished the glossy image of the modern game.

Thuram, a black Frenchman born in Guadeloupe, played for 10 years in Italy with Parma and then Juventus.

He has been politically active since his playing days, speaking out often against racism in sport and issues of inequality in society.

Former Manchester United striker Lukaku faced abuse when playing for Inter at Cagliari on Sunday, with the Italian Football Federation and FIFA quick to condemn the crowd conduct.

But in an interview with Corriere dello Sport, Thuram questioned: "For how many years have there been such reactions after such events?

"In the end everyone thinks it's something serious, but a solution has yet to be found.

"If we talk about it for many years, but nothing can be done, it means there is tremendous hypocrisy and there is no will to solve the problem."

He added: "Everyone says, 'Let's do something,' but nobody really does anything. And the racists believe they are right."

He claimed anyone who fails to back up their words by acting decisively is effectively complicit, but that there are ways of encouraging societal shifts.

"In France, for example, the referees interrupt the games in the event of homophobia in the stands: to suspend the game and send the two teams to the changing room can educate people. In Italy I don't remember any such strong positions," he said.

Thuram, now 47, retired as a player in 2008 after a two-year stint at Barcelona.

He was a member of France's triumphant 1998 World Cup team and believes white-against-black racism is endemic in large parts of the world.

"We need to be aware that the world of football is not racist, but that there is racism in Italian, French, European and more generally in white culture," Thuram said.

"Whites have decided they are superior to blacks and that they can do anything with them. It is something that has been going on for centuries unfortunately. And to change a culture is not easy."

Demba Ba has urged black players to abandon Serie A after Romelu Lukaku was subjected to racism within days of joining Inter.

Former Manchester United striker Lukaku faced abuse from the stands as his new club won 2-1 away against Cagliari at Sardegna Arena on Sunday.

The incident, which came as Lukaku prepared to take a penalty, has been widely condemned outside Italy, and the Royal Belgian Football Association ran a newspaper advert in support of its player on Wednesday.

Cagliari president Tommaso Giulini promised stadium bans could be enforced if the racists are identified, but he said that "fighting ignorance is difficult" and argued closing sections of grounds would not be the correct response.

In a startling statement, Inter's Curva Nord supporters claimed the abuse of Lukaku from Cagliari fans was not racist but "a form of respect".

That message prompted Senegalese striker Ba to propose decisive action.

Ba, who was linked with a move to Inter five years ago during his Chelsea career, quote-tweeted the Inter fans' statement and wrote: "And here's the reason why I decided not to play there when I could... And at that point I wish all the black players would get out of this league! Surely it won't stop their stupidity and hate but at least they won't affect other races."

Cagliari's fans were previously involved in racist chants directed at Pescara's Sulley Muntari in 2017, Juventus midfielder Blaise Matuidi in 2018 and former Juve forward Moise Kean this year.

Serie A did not punish Cagliari over the Kean incident, despite saying it was "reprehensible". Investigations are continuing after the abuse aimed at Lukaku.

Lukaku, who is on Belgium duty this week, may have greater confidence in the Belgian authorities' determination to stamp out racism.

Belgian FA chief executive Peter Bossaert said on Wednesday: "Racism is intolerable and it is really sad to see that we still have to fight this plague in 2019. But we will do so and continue to do so.

"Racism must disappear from the world of football, from stadiums and from society. When one of our players, like Romelu Lukaku, is targeted by racist acts, we feel concerned.

"We find it important to express our support and take a clear stand against all forms of racism and discrimination on and around the pitches."

The Belgian FA said it would invite young people to take part in a "brainstorming exercise" in October to look at the problem of discrimination and racist chanting.

Cagliari president Tommaso Giulini said "closing curvas isn't the answer" to ending racism in Serie A after Inter star Romelu Lukaku was subjected to monkey chants last week.

Racism reared its ugly head again in Italy, where Lukaku was racially abused during Inter's 2-1 win away to Cagliari at Sardegna Arena on Sunday.

The incident, which came as Lukaku stepped up to convert a second-half penalty, sparked widespread condemnation of Cagliari – whose fans were also previously involved in racist chants directed at Pescara's Sulley Muntari (2017), Juventus midfielder Blaise Matuidi (2018) and former Juve forward Moise Kean (2019).

Inter's Curva Nord supporters claimed alleged abuse of striker Lukaku from Cagliari fans was not racist but "a form of respect".

Amid growing calls for Italian authorities to crack down on racism and Cagliari, Giulini told Radio Popolare: "We're trying to work in a serious way, through the awareness of our stewards who will have to report people to DIGOS [a law enforcement agency].

"It's not easy to lipread with technology: we'll also ask the decent fans for help, that is 99.9 per cent of Cagliari supporters.

"Fighting ignorance is difficult, so we can only raise awareness. This incident has caused huge anger and frustration in us for all the initiatives we're carrying out. We were the first to introduce a school for young fans.

"Cagliari isn't a racist city at all. I'm so sorry that this image of us has also gone abroad. I hope we aren't banned. Closing curvas isn't the answer: as I said before, stewards must be made aware.

"I won't rule out, however, that any of my stewards saw something or a camera identified someone chanting. Once they're recognised, these people could be denied entry if they try to re-enter the stadium."

Former Pescara midfielder Marco Verratti – who now plays for Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain – said games must be stopped for racism.

"You have to stop games because otherwise we won't go anywhere," the Italy international told Rai Sport.

"I know it's a big step to take, but we have to do it because otherwise those 4-5 stupid people will always be there.

"Lukaku's appeal was right. It's up to us players to show we can be role models for all ages. We carry great influence. If it starts with us, that's a good thing."

Inter's Curva Nord supporters have claimed alleged abuse of striker Romelu Lukaku from Cagliari fans was not racist but "a form of respect".

Lukaku, who joined Inter in a club-record deal from Manchester United last month, appeared to be the subject of monkey chants from Cagliari supporters as he scored in the Nerazzurri's 2-1 Serie A away win on Sunday.

The Belgium international later called for players to "unify" against discrimination, with Cagliari fans accused of singling out other black players in the past, notably Sulley Muntari, Blaise Matuidi and Moise Kean.

However, the Curva Nord fans at San Siro – a vocal section of the Inter support –have responded to Lukaku's comments with an open letter addressed to their club's new signing.

The supporters defended Cagliari and claimed racism is not a "real problem" in Italy.

The letter, posted on the group's Facebook page, begins: "Hi Romelu. We are writing to you on behalf of the Curva Nord; yes, the guys who welcomed you on your arrival in Milan.

"We are really sorry you thought that what happened in Cagliari was racist. You have to understand that Italy is not like many other north European countries where racism is a real problem."

The group continue, claiming such chants are common to "help our teams", adding: "We are not racist and so nor are the Cagliari fans."

Attempting to explain the abuse, the supporters suggest Lukaku was pinpointed because his talent made him a threat to Cagliari.

"Please consider this attitude of Italian fans as a form of respect for the fact they are afraid of you for the goals you might score against their teams and not because they hate you or they are racist," the Curva Nord said.

They add that claims of racism support the "repression of all football fans" by highlighting "a problem that is not really there".

England international Jadon Sancho offered Lukaku his support following the incident, saying the Inter star "handled it really well by not reacting and carrying on playing".

The issue of racism has come to the fore in English football in recent weeks, with a number of black Premier League players subjected to abuse on social media.

Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Tammy Abraham were all targeted following missed penalties, while Kurt Zouma was abused after scoring an own goal.

England winger Jadon Sancho fears players will start to fall out of love with football if instances of racism continue to blight the game.

On Sunday, Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was targeted by monkey chants before he converted a decisive penalty in his team's 2-1 win over Cagliari in Serie A.

It marked the latest flashpoint of recent weeks, where the likes of Paul Pogba, Tammy Abraham and Kurt Zouma have all suffered online abuse.

Speaking to reporters after joining up with England for their Euro 2020 qualifiers, Borussia Dortmund winger Sancho praised Lukaku's defiant response in Sardinia but expressed long-term fears over the consequences should such sickening incidents continue to occur.

"I personally think that it just has to stop," he said. "No player wants to play football and have abuse like that.

"It puts the confidence down in players and the love of the sport will go very soon if it doesn't stop.

"Everyone should be happy and do what they are doing without receiving racial abuse. I don't think it is [just] social media.

"Some fans are just really passionate and obviously they say what they want to say. I feel they need to slow it down a bit - we're still only human.

"Just because we play football people might think we are just famous and ignorant to that but we just love the sport and just want to play.

"It is hard to see things like this because it feels like 'why should we play football?'. I felt that Romelu Lukaku handled it really well by not reacting and carrying on playing."

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini also fielded questions on the Lukaku abuse ahead of his team's matches against Armenia and Finland.

"We all hope not to hear those racist chants but it still happens here in Italy, like in England as well unfortunately," said the former Manchester City manager.

"Unfortunately, there are unintelligent people in the stadiums. Lukaku is right saying that in 2019 these kinds of things shouldn't happen. By now we should have got rid of these things."

On Monday, Lukaku issued a statement calling for footballers to unify against racism and for social media companies to do more to combat discrimination.

Mancini added: "I think that the majority of people in football are already working in this direction to do all they can to improve the situation about racism.

"We all hope that those people who make these mistakes nowadays will understand it's wrong and, with time, won't do it anymore.

"But I'm afraid that there will always be some unintelligent people repeating the same mistakes, unfortunately."

Cagliari vowed to ban the supporters responsible for racially abusing Romelu Lukaku in Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Inter but rejected "silly stereotypes" about the behaviour of their fans.

Lukaku's second-half penalty secured Inter's victory, however the match was marred by monkey chants coming from fans behind the goal as the striker prepared to take his kick. 

He glared back at the supporters in question instead of celebrating after converting and it was the latest in a string of such incidents involving Cagliari and the fourth high-profile occasion in just over two years.

In May 2017, Pescara's Sulley Muntari was booked for complaining to the referee about racist abuse from Cagliari fans, later being given a one-match ban for walking off the pitch in protest. The club avoided punishment because "approximately 10" people were involved.

Juventus midfielder Blaise Matuidi claimed in January 2018 he was abused away to Cagliari and last season his then team-mate Moise Kean was targeted, the Sardinia club escaping punishment because Serie A felt the chants "had an objectively limited relevance to race".

Despite the regularity of such incidents, Cagliari denounced "silly" stereotypes of their fans.

"Cagliari Calcio firmly rejects what happened Sunday night at the Sardegna Arena during the game vs. Inter," the statement began.

"The club underlines - once again - its intention to identify, isolate and ban those ignorant individuals whose shameful actions and behaviours are completely against the values that Cagliari strongly promotes in all their initiatives. Every single day.

"Cagliari does not want to underplay what occurred, endorses the respectable moral values of its people from all the stadium sections, but firmly rejects the outrageous charge and silly stereotypes addressed to Cagliari supporters and the Sardinian people, which are absolutely unacceptable."

Lukaku released a statement earlier on Monday calling for greater action from social media and federation stakeholders, which Cagliari echoed.

"Full solidarity to Romelu Lukaku and even stronger commitment towards annihilating one of the worst plagues that affects football and our world in general," the statement continued.

"However, as we are aware that technology is not enough, we believe our commitment needs a real support by the rest of the football stakeholders; starting from all the true supporters, to all the stewards in the stands; from police and security agents, passing to media and as well through Lega Serie A and FIGC [Italian Football Federation].

"Cagliari is asking you all [for] solid help to win a battle that involves everyone. No one excluded."

Romelu Lukaku urged footballers to unify against racism and demanded social media companies do more to combat discrimination after the striker was abused by Cagliari fans on Sunday.

Inter won 2-1 in Sardinia thanks to Lukaku's second-half penalty, but monkey chants could be heard coming from fans behind the goal as the Belgium international prepared to take his kick.

After scoring, he glared back at the supporters in question instead of celebrating.

It was the fourth high-profile incident involving Cagliari fans in just over two years, with Sulley Muntari, Blaise Matuidi and Moise Kean all targeted in the past.

Lukaku's former Manchester United team-mates Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba have been targeted by racial abuse on social media this season, and Lukaku is demanding a greater effort from necessary stakeholders to stamp out discrimination.

"Many players in the last month have suffered from racial abuse," Lukaku wrote on his official Instagram account. "I did yesterday [Sunday], too.

"Football is a game to be enjoyed by everyone and we shouldn't accept any form of discrimination that will put our game in shame.

"I hope the football federations all over the world react strongly on all cases of discrimination!!!

"Social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) need to work better as well with football clubs, because everyday you see at least one racist comment under a post of a person of colour. We've been saying it for years and still no action.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it's 2019. Instead of going forward, we're going backwards, and I think as players we need [to] unify and make a statement on this matter to keep this game clean and enjoyable for everyone."

Cagliari released a statement on Monday condemning the chants and vowed to ban those responsible.

 

Romelu Lukaku revelled in his goalscoring display to lead Inter to a second successive Serie A win, despite being the victim of racial abuse against Cagliari.

Lukaku scored his second goal of the season after arriving from Manchester United as Inter defeated Cagliari 2-1 on Sunday but the victory was soured by racist chants.

Monkey chants were directed at Lukaku as Inter's club-record signing stepped up to convert a 72nd-minute penalty at the Sardegna Arena.

Amid widespread condemnation, Lukaku told Inter TV: "I'm very happy about these first two league victories and about tonight's success.

"It was a tough match, we had to fight but that's what we'll have to do in every game, I'm happy for the team and for our fans.

"To score wearing this shirt is a great feeling, I want to help the team even more, through assists too: the goal is to continue like this."

Lukaku scored the winner after team-mate Lautaro Martinez's first-half opener was cancelled out by Joao Pedro away from home.

On his partnership with Martinez, Lukaku added: "It's improving week after week and I'm happy about his goal, which was important for us.

"Now there will be a break for national team commitments, it will be important that we all come back in good condition and then work best in preparation for the matches at San Siro against Udinese and Slavia Prague [in the Champions League]."

Antonio Conte demanded more respect and improvement in Italy after Romelu Lukaku was subjected to racial abuse in Inter's 2-1 win away to Cagliari.

Lukaku scored a penalty to preserve Inter's perfect start to the Serie A season but Sunday's victory was overshadowed by monkey chants aimed at the Belgian striker.

Racial chants could be heard as Lukaku stepped up to convert the 72nd-minute penalty, which secured all three points for Inter after Joao Pedro had cancelled out Lautaro Martinez's first-half opener.

It was another dark day for Italian football and Cagliari at the Sardegna Arena, where former Juventus striker Moise Kean endured similar chants last season.

After widespread condemnation and calls for Italian authorities to crack down, Inter head coach Conte told reporters: "We need to improve a great deal in Italy and be more respectful to people who are working, in general.

"When I was working abroad, the fans would cheer on their own team, not spend their entire time insulting the opponent."

Inter made it two wins from two games under Conte but the Nerazzurri were far from perfect on the road against Cagliari.

After routing Lecce in their Serie A opener, Inter were fortunate to claim victory following a contentious penalty call against Fabio Pisacane.

"It was a different game to the win against Lecce, as I had warned everyone this would be tough. Coming to Cagliari is never a walk in the park," Conte said.

"Let it be known, I am very demanding and there is a lot we need to do in order to improve, but I also say we are glad to have won in a difficult arena.

"Cagliari played their game and did it well, but this is a very important result, as it carries on from the performance against Lecce, but we should've 'killed' it more after conceding their equaliser. We did well to get back on top, but there's more we can do.

"This team was built to play with midfielders pushing forward into the channels, like Matias Vecino, Stefano Sensi, Roberto Gagliardini and Nicolo Barella."

While Diego Godin came off the bench to make his debut, Alexis Sanchez was an unused substitute following his loan move from Manchester United.

"Alexis Sanchez is an excellent player and he is in decent shape, but will go on international duty now and play only the first game with Chile against Argentina, put some minutes in his legs," Conte added. "We must get him back to the level he was at Udinese and Barcelona."

Romelu Lukaku was subjected to racist abuse from Cagliari supporters but scored his second goal in two Serie A games for Inter as Antonio Conte's men extended their winning start to the season with a 2-1 victory.

The €65million signing from Manchester United endured similar chants to those aimed at former Juventus striker Moise Kean last season while taking a penalty he converted to clinch three points for the visitors at the Sardegna Arena.

After a comfortable 4-0 win over Lecce in their opening game the Nerazzurri came up against a stubborn Cagliari side bolstered by Inter loanee Radja Nainggolan, who gave his parent club no rest in midfield.

Lautaro Martinez partnered Lukaku in the Inter attack and he helped to distract from the ongoing uncertainty over Mauro Icardi's future when he opened his account for 2019-20 in the 27th minute.

But the craft and endeavour Inter showed against Lecce was stemmed by Cagliari, who drew level through Joao Pedro five minutes into the second half.

The hosts looked set to earn a battling point until Fabio Pisacane conceded a penalty and Lukaku further endeared himself to the Inter faithful by burying it.

Nainggolan, playing a deep-lying role, provided the hosts with the guile they needed to break up Inter's crisp approach play and endured some heavy challenges during the early exchanges.

But the pressure paid off when Martinez beat Alberto Cerri and the offside trap as he rose to meet Stefano Sensi's weighted cross, which he headed low into the corner.

Cagliari came out of the blocks quickly after half-time and Nahitan Nandez turned his marker before bursting down the right flank and crossing for Joao Pedro to head home from close range.

Sensi hit the crossbar with a curling free-kick from 20 yards as Inter pressed for a winner that arrived after he was brought down by Pisacane.

Lukaku held his nerve despite "monkey chants" emanating from the home supporters, coolly drilling the penalty kick into the bottom right corner of Robin Olsen's net before defiantly turning to face in the direction of those who abused him.

What does it mean? Serie A must act
The importance of the result was dwarfed by the latest racism flashpoint in Italian football and, after Serie A failed to punish Cagliari over the abuse directed at Kean, they surely cannot continue to ignore such a glaring blight on the division.

Lukaku and Martinez ensure Icardi is not missed
Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta said the ongoing uncertainty over Icardi's future was "not a problem" in the build-up to the game and goals from both of his side's strikers supported his point.

Crucial error from clumsy Pisacane
Pisacane showed his limitations when going to ground and whipping Sensi's leg from under him as the Inter midfielder pressed for a winner.

What's next?
While Cagliari will be confident of getting something from their trip to Parma when Serie A resumes after the international break, Inter entertain Udinese at San Siro.

Romelu Lukaku was subjected to racist abuse from Cagliari supporters but scored his second goal in two Serie A games for Inter as Antonio Conte's men extended their winning start to the season with a 2-1 victory.

The €65million signing from Manchester United endured similar chants to those aimed at former Juventus striker Moise Kean last season while taking a penalty he converted to clinch three points for the visitors at the Sardegna Arena.

After a comfortable 4-0 win over Lecce in their opening game the Nerazzurri came up against a stubborn Cagliari side bolstered by Inter loanee Radja Nainggolan, who gave his parent club no rest in midfield.

Lautaro Martinez partnered Lukaku in the Inter attack and he helped to distract from the ongoing uncertainty over Mauro Icardi's future when he opened his account for 2019-20 in the 27th minute.

But the craft and endeavour Inter showed against Lecce was stemmed by Cagliari, who drew level through Joao Pedro five minutes into the second half.

The hosts looked set to earn a battling point until Fabio Pisacane conceded a penalty and Lukaku further endeared himself to the Inter faithful by burying it.

Romelu Lukaku's goalscoring record should have earned him more respect in England, according to Belgium boss Roberto Martinez.

Manchester United sold 26-year-old Lukaku to Serie A side Inter in August for a reported €80million.

The striker hit 27 competitive goals in his first season at Old Trafford but that figure fell to 15 last term as critics questioned aspects of his game and conditioning.

Martinez managed the former PFA Team of the Year member at Everton, where he spent four prolific years, and believes his overall impact in the Premier League went undervalued.

Only 18 players have ever scored more goals in the competition than Lukaku's 113 from 252 appearances.

"Romelu hasn't been appreciated for most of the time he's been in the British game," Martinez told the Daily Mail.

"And the reason is very clear. Everyone analyses what he hasn't got as a number nine. Everyone wants to tell him the first touch should be better, that he should be stronger in the air, that he needs to make more room.

"But what they miss is his outstanding trade as a goalscorer. Look at his stats. He is one of the most significant scorers at his age.

"Like any player, if you are going to highlight the things they don't do well, you wouldn't get the feeling of a good player.

"But in Romelu's case, he's always been a top goalscorer."

Lukaku's move made him the third high-profile member of Belgium's starting XI to leave the Premier League during the close season, after Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany.

Kevin De Bruyne remains at Manchester City and has enjoyed an exceptional and injury-free start to the new season.

Asked whether there is a better midfielder in world football, Martinez replied: "No, no, no, definitely not.

"Kevin De Bruyne is a modern playmaker. Xabi Alonso at Liverpool or Xavi Hernandez at Barcelona – when they received the ball, everything had to slow down and this allowed them to execute the pass.

"De Bruyne, he executes passes before the flow of the game has seen it, before people have seen it."

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