- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 31, 2017

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 kicking a ball after diehard Saint-Etienne fans made it clear he was not welcome at Geoffroy Guichard stadium - just days before a home game against Lyon.

The 29-year-old Mounier traveled back to Serie A club Bologna on Monday, and has joined Atalanta on loan instead.

Saint-Etienne has its grudge match against Lyon on Sunday and Mounier will play no part in it. The game is always big but there is even more at stake with Saint-Etienne just four points behind Lyon, which is in fourth place.

Before Mounier even set foot in Saint-Etienne, fans had sent him a clear warning. One of the club’s supporters 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 you should not 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 to Paris Saint-Germain the last two years.

Some players, including former international goalkeeper Gregory Coupet and the ex-France coach Aime Jacquet, have worn both the white jersey of Lyon and the green of Saint-Etienne. 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 them in a video with a profanity-laced tirade aimed at the club.

“I was 22 years old, it was a youngster’s mistake,” Mounier said last week as he vainly offered to meet with fan groups to appease them.

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 reinitiated contacts with him after aborted attempts to secure his services.

Criticized for its lack of entertainment and dour style of play, Saint-Etienne signed Mounier last week, hoping his technical skills would help the team play a more attractive game and that he would make a permanent move following his loan spell.

“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.”

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