BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — First he backed his beleaguered boss. Then he condemned him. Now he is saying sorry for his part in the scandal that has tarnished Spanish soccer.
The coach of Spain’s men’s national soccer team begged for forgiveness Friday for applauding the claim by Luis Rubiales that he was the victim of a smear campaign from “false feminists” following an uproar after he kissed a player on the lips at the Women’s World Cup.
“I don’t think I have to resign, I think I have to ask for forgiveness,” Spain coach Luis de la Fuente said in Madrid in his first public appearance since Rubiales kissed Jenni Hermoso on Aug. 20 after the final in Sydney, Australia. “I made a human error. It was inexcusable.”
De la Fuente spoke one week after he clapped several times during an emergency general assembly of the Spanish soccer federation when Rubiales, the organization’s president, refused to step down as was expected. Rubiales’ speech included claims that Hermoso had consented to his kiss during the awards ceremony — a claim she has denied — and against what he called the “scourge” of feminism in Spain.
Spain’s Acting Deputy Prime Minister, Yolanda Díaz, said De la Fuente and women’s national team coach Jorge Vilda were “not fit to hold” their posts.
“I have received harsh criticism, and it is completely deserved,” De la Fuente said Friday. “If I could go back in time, I would not do that again. We all have to do more for equality. Me too. And I am working on that.”
De la Fuente said he was caught off guard by Rubiales’ speech and that his applause happened in a “situation of maximum stress and tension.” He said he was convinced Rubiales was going to announce he was stepping down, as was widely reported in local media.
FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, provisionally suspend Rubiales for 90 days a day after his speech. Hours after his boss was suspended, De la Fuente issued a statement condemning Rubiales’ behavior after Spain beat England to win the Women’s World Cup final.
Interim federation president Pedro Rocha, who Rubiales arranged to be his provisional successor, has said that the federation completely backs De la Fuente.
Rocha, however, did not give Vilda the same backing. He said Thursday that Vilda’s future would be decided after a meeting at the federation next week. Most of Vilda’s staff has resigned.
While the entire women’s team plus a dozen other players have said they will not play again for Spain as long as Rubiales’ remains in charge, only one male player, Real Betis striker Borja Iglesias, has said he won’t play for his nation again until “things change.”
De la Fuente replaced Luis Enrique after last year’s World Cup. He has spent the last decade of his career in the federation, working his way up from the men’s youth teams to the senior team.
His squad list for upcoming European Championship qualifiers against Georgia and Cyprus was eclipsed by his about-face on the Rubiales crisis. De la Fuente called up 16-year-old Barcelona forward Lamine Yamal for the first time, a decision that would have been bigger news if not for Rubiales.
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