Spain men’s coach Luis de la Fuente apologised Friday for applauding football federation president Luis Rubiales’ speech last week in which he said he would not resign, after his forcible kiss on the lips of Women’s World Cup star Jenni Hermoso.
“I have to say sorry, I made a mistake, it’s inexcusable,” De la Fuente told a news conference.
Rubiales, 46, sparked worldwide outrage when he forcibly kissed Spain midfielder Hermoso during the Women’s World Cup medal ceremony in Sydney on August 20.
The Spanish football federation (RFEF) chief provoked further ire with a defiant speech at an emergency meeting in which he refused to resign despite mounting pressure and instead railed against “false feminism”, which De la Fuente applauded.
Rubiales insisted his kiss was consensual, but Hermoso said it was not and she felt like the “victim of an assault”.
World football governing body FIFA provisionally suspended Rubiales for 90 days after which De la Fuente published a statement criticising the president’s behaviour.
Some critics, including Spanish second deputy prime minister Yolanda Diaz, said De la Fuente could not continue in his post.
“I received heavy criticism for (applauding) and I think that it’s totally deserved, I understand it, I apologise for it, it was unjustifiable,” said De la Fuente.
“I came to the assembly convinced that we were seeing the goodbye of a president and it turned into the opposite.”
De la Fuente, 62, said the situation generated “emotional stress” and surprised those present.
“I arrived thinking it would be a resignation and we went into shock when we saw it wasn’t like that,” he added.
“I was not at the right level and I could not control my emotions. Later when you look and you see yourself on the cameras… I didn’t recognise myself.”
Interim RFEF president Pedro Rocha confirmed Thursday De la Fuente would “totally” be staying, but said he would be meeting women’s team coach Jorge Vilda next week.
Reports in Spain say Vilda is set to be forced out of his job despite the team’s World Cup victory in Australia and New Zealand.
Currently over 80 players are on strike from the women’s team because of the Rubiales incident and Real Betis striker Borja Iglesias says he will not play for the men’s team.
“I think he will want to come if he is called up, but I always stand for freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of thought,” added De la Fuente, who did not select the forward in his squad for Euro 2024 qualifiers later in September.