The Unexpected Journey of Luis Rubiales: From Union Boss to Leader of Spain’s Football Federation
Spain’s football federation president, Luis Rubiales, has announced his resignation following the controversy surrounding his kiss on the lips of a Women’s World Cup player. Rubiales, a former attacking midfielder, had a successful career before transitioning into the role of players’ union head.
The incident occurred after Spain’s victory over England in the World Cup final, where Rubiales forcefully kissed star player Jenni Hermoso. Born in the Canary Islands but raised in Motril, Rubiales played for various lower division teams before ending his career at Scotland’s Hamilton Academical.
Rubiales was known for his strong physicality as a modern defender who liked to attack. Former Levante coach Manolo Preciado praised Rubiales for his dedication and loyalty. During his time at Levante, Rubiales led a player revolt against unpaid wages, likely inheriting his desire for public advocacy from his father, who was the mayor of Motril.
As the head of the Spanish football players’ union AFE from 2010 to 2017, Rubiales called two national players’ strikes and established a fund to cover unpaid salaries. He also negotiated with La Liga to secure a percentage of TV broadcast rights for AFE.
Rubiales’ clashes with La Liga president Javier Tebas began during his tenure at AFE and continued when he was elected as the president of the football federation in 2018. Rubiales defeated Juan Luis Larrea, who was serving as treasurer and interim chief, in the election. Rubiales took over the presidency after the suspension of Angel Maria Villar, who was suspected of embezzlement and other offenses.
Shortly after his election, Rubiales made the surprising decision to dismiss Spain’s men’s national coach Julen Lopetegui just before the 2018 World Cup. Rubiales also faced criticism for expanding Spain’s Super Cup contest to a four-team format and signing a deal to host it in Saudi Arabia.
In 2022, leaked audio recordings from 2019 suggested that a company called Kosmos, owned by Gerard Pique, made significant commission from the Super Cup deal. Rubiales denied the allegations and denounced them as falsehoods.
Despite the controversies, Rubiales received praise for increasing the number of sponsors and revenues for the federation. He also improved the conditions for lower-tier teams, earning the support of regional football federations.
Rubiales tripled the budget for women’s football to 406 million euros in 2022. However, his support for the national women’s team coach during a player mutiny raised concerns. Ultimately, Rubiales’ celebration of the Women’s World Cup victory led to his suspension and legal action against him for sexual assault and coercion.
Under pressure, Rubiales finally decided to resign from his position on Sunday.