Giuseppe Bellusci will be free to return to Leeds United’s squad away at Reading on Tuesday after being found not guilty of racially abusing Norwich City striker Cameron Jerome.
The Italian defender won a three-month fight to clear his name yesterday as a Football Association disciplinary commission rejected Jerome’s claim that Bellusci aimed racist slurs at him during a Championship game at Carrow Road in October.
Bellusci was accused of repeatedly calling Jerome a ‘negro’ but the independent three-man commission accepted an argument from the centre-back’s legal team that he had been speaking Italian and was threatening to give Jerome “a black eye”.
Adam Morallee, a partner at Brandsmiths, the firm which defended Bellusci at Thursday’s hearing in Nottingham, said the 26-year-old had used the word “nero” during his spat with Jerome, the Italian term for black.
Bellusci faced a five-match ban if found guilty and was likely to receive a more severe suspension for an ‘aggravated offence’ in which he was accused of using a racist term more than once.
But the FA said the charge against him was “not proven”, allowing Bellusci – currently one game into a two-match ban after a recent red card - to resume playing next week.
Morallee told the BBC: “Giuseppe was saying the same thing he said from the start, which was that he never said anything racist.
“He said something in Italian which included the word ‘nero’, which means black. He used it in the context of saying he wanted to give Cameron Jerome a black eye.
“We maintained that from day one and the panel accepted it. He was accused of using the ‘n’ word - negro - several times but he was always absolutely clear that he never used that word.”
The incident at Carrow Road occurred in the first half of a 1-1 draw between Leeds and Norwich on October 21.
Jerome made an immediate complaint to match referee Mark Clattenburg and the FA charged Bellusci on December 22 after interviewing both players.
Morallee said the case was “one man’s word against another’s” but claimed Jerome had made a “honest mistake” in accusing Bellusci of a racist offence.
“We never thought Cameron Jerome was lying,” he said. “We were at pains to point that out to the tribunal. We thought he made an honest mistake. We thought he heard something which he thought was one word but it wasn’t.
“We were never accusing him of being dishonest.”
Leeds issued a statement yesterday welcoming the FA’s decision and saying the club was “a fully inclusive organisation” which “aims to work with every aspect of our community by celebrating diversity and recognising cultural differences.”
Bellusci, who joined United from Catania in August for a reported fee of £1.6m, received the club’s full support after Leeds conducted what Morallee called “its own internal investigation.”
Cellino defended Bellusci in the aftermath of the original incident but hinted that the centre-back future would be in doubt if the FA found him guilty.
“If any Leeds player was shown to be a racist, he’d be out,” Cellino said in October. “That’s my philosophy and my promise.”
In a statement, Norwich said they were “deeply disappointed” by the commission’s verdict.
It read: “Norwich City fully supports Cameron, who genuinely believed he was on the receiving end of unacceptable language on the field of play, reported it in the correct manner to the match officials and has conducted himself with dignity throughout the months since the incident.”