PARIS (AP) — Anthony Mounier's playing stint at Saint-Etienne lasted four days. His sin? Having played for bitter rival Lyon, and a few offensive comments he made years ago.
Mounier, an attacking midfielder who signed a six-month loan deal with the French league club last week, returned to Italy without playing a ball after diehard Saint-Etienne fans made it clear he was not welcome at Geoffroy Guichard stadium.
The 29-year-old Mounier traveled back to Serie A club Bologna on Monday, and is likely to be sent on loan to Atalanta Bergamo instead.
Before Mounier even set a foot at Saint-Etienne, fans sent him a clear warning. One of the club's supporter groups, the Green Angels, deployed banners at the club training center and stadium that read: "Mounier, our colors will never be yours."
Despite its need to bolster its attacking options, Saint-Etienne gave way to the fans' pressure.
"The situation in regards with Anthony Mounier is not a pleasant one for anyone involved," Saint-Etienne coach Christophe Galtier said on Tuesday. "It was the right decision. Sometimes one does not need to be ashamed to take a backward step."
During his brief stay in the soccer-crazy former industrial city, Mounier received death threats from fans, the club said. Police in Saint-Etienne denied press reports he was put under surveillance for his safety.
Among the most popular clubs in France, Saint-Etienne and Lyon are separated by only 60 kilometers (37 miles) and their rivalry is one of the fiercest in French football.
Saint-Etienne won a record 10 league titles before falling into mediocrity in the 1980s in the aftermath of a financial scandal, while Lyon gradually climbed to the top in the late 1990s and won seven straight titles from 2002-08. It has been runner-up the last two years.
Some players, including former international goalkeeper Gregory Coupet and the ex-France coach Aime Jacquet, have worn both club's jerseys. But Mounier, who grew up in a family of Saint-Etienne fans, was ostracized by the supporters for comments he made in 2012 after he scored twice for Nice in a win at Saint-Etienne. That day, Mounier offended the home fans with a profanity-laced tirade aimed at the club.
"I was 22-year-old, it was a youthful mistake," Mounier said last week as he vainly offered to meet with fan groups.
After rising though Lyon's youth system, Mounier spent four seasons in the first team before joining Nice. He played with Montpellier and was sold to Bologna last season. But Mounier played only six Serie A matches this season, and Saint-Etienne reignited contacts with the midfielder after aborted attempts to secure his services.
Criticized for its lack of entertainment and dour style of play, Saint-Etienne made Mounier its first signing of the January transfer window last week, hoping his technical skills would help the team play a more attractive game and he would join the club for good following his loan.
Saint-Etienne trails fourth-place Lyon by four points.
"I can understand that fans don't want to see a player who insulted them in the past," said Francois Clerc, a defender who played for both clubs. "I don't understand why the club took him. In the end his departure might be the best thing for everybody, it will ease things up.
"Anthony will find a club where he can be more happy, and Saint-Etienne will be able to continue its season in a more serene atmosphere."