ROME Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis sparked another controversy after his team's Champions League exit against Real Madrid onTuesday, saying journalists from the north of the country hated him and his club.
De Laurentiis, a prominent Italian film producer, had no complaints about his side after they lost 3-1 at home in the second leg of their last 16 tie to go out 6-2 on aggregate.
But his praise for the team's performance quickly turned into a tirade against alleged northern prejudice as he was interviewed by the Mediaset Premium channel.
"The journalists of the north hate me... they hate Napoli, because they are at the service of the north," he said, adding that the daily Gazzetta dello Sport is "notoriously the newspaper of Inter (Milan), Juventus and AC Milan."
Praising his coach Maurizio Sarri, he added that a reported rift between the pair was also the work of northern newspapers.
"There has never been any friction with Sarri," he said. "I have always spoken of Sarri as a football connoisseur and an excellent coach."
Gazzetta described his words as dangerous and said it was "at the service of everyone."
Last week Napoli complained bitterly after losing 3-1 to Juventus in their Italian Cup semi-final first leg in Turin during which two penalties were awarded against them.
Luigi De Magistris, the mayor of Naples, was among the critics, saying in an official city government statement that "everything is more difficult for us Neapolitans."
Napoli took a first-half lead in Tuesday's match and looked capable of overturning the two-goal deficit when they hit the post but fell apart after halftime as the title-holders scored three times.
"It was an exemplary first half, and the team gave everything in the second half, but Real are Real," said De Laurentiis.
Sarri, a former bank worker, is in his second season as Napoli coach, having led them to the runners-up spot in Serie A last term. They are currently third in the table, two points behind AS Roma but 10 adrift of leaders Juventus.
He said Tuesday's performance had given the team confidence, despite the scoreline.
"I have the sensation we are not far away from their standard," said the coach. "We made life very tough for a very strong team, even though we had several young players on the pitch.
"If we look at the game and forget the bitterness of the result, there is reason to be hopeful for the future.
"They are a young squad with a bright future ahead of them. The last step is the hardest but I feel we can do it."
(Reporting by Brian Homewood; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Ken Ferris)