The Hague - Former Dutch football great Marco van Basten apologised Saturday after he was heard using a Nazi greeting to ridicule a Dutch television journalist's German during an interview.
Van Basten, 55, who is regarded as one of the game's best ever strikers, made the comment on Fox Sports pay-to-view channel after an interview ahead of the Eredivisie clash between Ajax and Heracles.
His words could be heard in the studio moments after TV presenter Hans Kraay's interview in German with Heracles' German manager Frank Wormuth.
"Not too pretty, sieg heil, pfannkuchen (pancake)," Van Basten said, using the Nazi German greeting during World War II.
His words unleased a Twitter storm and during half-time in the match the former Ajax and Ac Milan forward made his excuses for what he termed an "ill-placed joke".
"It was not my intention at all to shock people. I only wanted to 'explain' Hans' German," a contrite Van Basten said.
But Van Basten's misplaced comment left many fuming, not only because of what he said but also about its timing.
Football clubs in the Netherlands are taking active measures to fight racism following an incident last weekend when racist chants caused a second division match to be halted.
The referee briefly suspended Sunday's game between Excelsior Rotterdam and Den Bosch and Excelsior winger Ahmad Mendes Moreira walked off the pitch.
Moreira said he heard monkey noises and songs about "Black Pete", a traditional Dutch Christmas-time character that appears in blackface and attracts accusations of racist stereotyping, Dutch media reported.
Fox Sports also apologised for Van Basten's comments, the daily Algemeen Dagblad reported.
"His comments were inappropriate. Not only for today, but for every day," a spokesman told the paper.
Ajax beat Heracles 4-1 after goals among others by Quincy Promes and Zakaria Labyad.