Chris Hughton claims his admiration for Raheem Sterling has increased further after the Manchester City forward challenged Leonardo Bonucci’s controversial comments on racial abuse.
Juventus defender Bonucci was widely criticised for saying his teenage team-mate Moise Kean was “50-50” responsible for the racism he was subjected to during Tuesday’s Serie A match at Cagliari as he had provoked opposition fans.
Sterling dismissed the remarks as laughable on social media, before Italy international Bonucci clarified his views and said he “firmly condemned” all forms of racism and discrimination.
Brighton boss Hughton, who is set to face Sterling during Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final with City at Wembley, applauded the 24-year-old England international for speaking out against a fellow professional.
“When he came out and made the statement after the incident, it was one that for any admiration I had for him, or have for him, has certainly increased,” said Hughton.
“If I look at where he is now and how he has developed his career, that is down to the club he is at and the manager he has, but mostly down to the individual. That’s him as a player.
“But I’ve also been massively impressed with him as an individual.”
Racism continues to be a major issue in world football, with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin calling for referees to stop matches when there is abuse.
Sterling, along with international team-mates Callum Hudson-Odoi and Danny Rose, endured monkey chants while representing England in Montenegro last month after receiving alleged racial abuse during City’s game at Chelsea in December.
“He took a stance a little while ago that I think generally was respected by a lot of people,” continued Hughton.
“That came in line also with the respect that everybody has had with him in his career and how he’s developed his career.”
Hughton, one of the few Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) managers in English football, says he is not surprised by incidences of racism at games.
He feels more severe punishments to stamp out the problem are required.
“I was disgusted by the reaction of the crowd towards an individual,” he said of the abuse of Kean during the Cagliari-Juventus match.
“Am I surprised? We’ve probably got to the stage now where there aren’t too many surprises in the game.
“There is absolutely no doubt that there have to be stricter penalties because this is so clear, so obvious for everybody to see.
“If the authorities are not going to come down on stricter penalties – whether that’s teams playing behind closed doors or increasing some of the very minimal fines that we’ve seen – then it has to be taken out of their hands.
“What you might possibly see, because it’s something that is recurring time and time again, is that players themselves might have a bigger say and a bigger voice.”