ROME (AFP) – An agent for Lazio striker Mauro Zarate has defended the Argentinian star, who was photographed giving the Nazi salute, by insisting the 23-year-old did not realise the significance of his gesture.

Zarate caused outrage in Italy last week after he was pictured with a group of fans at Rome’s Olympic Stadium giving the Nazi salute as he sat out his side’s 2-0 defeat to Bari last Sunday with a suspension.

The controversy was worsened by the fact Zarate’s German team-mate Thomas Hitzlsperger came on as a first-half substitute during the game.

Lazio’s hardcore fans have a reputation for being right-wing and often give the Roman salute – which is identical to the one used by Nazis under Adolf Hitler – during their side’s home games.

But while Zarate’s gesture caused outrage in Italy, which was led by facist dictator Benito Mussolini during World War II, his manager claimed the Argentinian had no idea he was causing offence.

“Mauro does not even know who Hitler and Mussolini are,” his spokesman told German agency SID.

It is not the first time a Lazio player has been embroiled in such a scandal.

Former Lazio striker Paolo Di Canio was fined 10,000 euros for a similar salute which he gave at the end of the Rome derby in January 2005.

Lazio were also fined the same amount, and later Di Canio denied there was any political meaning to his gesture.

Italian league bosses said however after the Di Canio controversy that players should not “engage in any gestures indicating any kind of political ideology … which could potentially provoke a violent reaction from fans”.