As part of the Latino exodus to the Chinese soccer league, Ezequiel Lavezzi moved over to Hebei China Fortune F.C. in early 2016, giving the league one of its bigger international names and, in the process, netting the Argentine forward a good chunk of cash. In fact, Lavezzi is now the highest-paid futbolero in the world, reportedly earning a whopping £798,000 (roughly $1,028,953 USD) a week.
Along the way, however, El Pocho also found himself the target of racism accusations, following a promotional photo for the Chinese Super League that shows Lavezzi pulling the corners of his eyes back.
The pose is widely considered to be racist against people of East Asian descent, and Lavezzi immediately faced backlash upon the image going public in China. According to ESPN Deportes, a user on Weibo–China’s Twitter equivalent–going by the name of Hua Junyi said that “many foreigns earn money in China while insulting the Chinese people. I don’t understand why we appreciate them so much.”
On Sunday, Lavezzi released a statement in half-apology for the pose, choosing to go the oft-derided “sorry if you were offended” route: “I’m very happy to be here as part of the Hebei club. I have had great time here with my team mates and it has been a great journey. Every Chinese person around me is friendly and I love my life here. I deeply apologise if this photo has offended the Chinese public and fans. I will be more careful in the future.”
Hebei also released a statement in connection to the photo, saying that Lavezzi has expressed his love for China many times too. Now we have communicated with him and have clarified he had no bad intentions and he deeply apologised for any offense caused.” They also stated that the photo was not officially released as part of the promotional campaign
Since joining Hebei in February of last year, Lavezzi has appeared in 17 games, missing a handful of games following an injury that kept him out for the majority of his debut season. He returned in March, and has scored 3 goals in 7 games this season.
This isn’t the first time a South American player has been photographed with this particular pose; Brazilian legend Ronaldo was also caught doing it at the airport in a widely-circulated photo.