Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola has defended Bernardo Silva after the Portuguese midfielder was accused of racism.
The player posted a photo on Twitter believed to be City teammate Benjamin Mendy as a child, with the caption: "Guess who?" and an image of the mascot for Spanish chocolate brand Conguitos. The image posted was criticized for its racist connotations.
Bernardo, who has been heavily criticized on social media, later deleted the tweet and posted another saying: "Can't even joke with a friend these days ... You guys..."
Mendy replied to the tweet with a series of laughing emojis and clapping hands, with the caption: "1-0 for you will see."
"I don't know what is going to happen but they should put the focus on other issues. Bernardo is one of the most lovely people I have ever met in my life," Guardiola told reporters Tuesday following his side's 3-0 win over Preston in the English League Cup.
"He speaks four or five languages -- that is the best way to understand how open-minded he is -- and one of his best friends is Mendy. He is like a brother for him. The image for the two is not about the colour of the skin.
"If they want to do that, to ask Bernardo, we'd be open to talk, but first to do that you want to know exactly which person are you talking about.
"If something happens it would be a mistake because Bernardo is an exceptional person."
'Vital to challenge'
Should the English Football Association decide to take action, Bernardo could face a fine or a ban.
In July, the governing body increased its punishment for discriminatory behaviour to a minimum six-game ban for first-time offenders.
Kick It Out, which tackles racism and discrimination in English football, has called on the FA to take action.
"We are extremely disappointed to see the tweet posted by Bernardo Silva, which has since been deleted," it said in a statement.
"Racist stereotypes are never acceptable as 'banter,' and we're shocked that someone who is a role model to millions has failed to understand the discriminatory nature of his post.
"The FA have been notified and we believe that retrospective action should be taken, including mandatory education -- which is vital to challenge offensive behaviour such as this."
According to Kick It Out, reports of discrimination rose by 32% in 2018/19 compared to the previous season. Racism remains the most common form of discrimination and has risen "alarmingly," Kick It Out says, with reports increasing by 43%.