Not just kiss row: All the controversies that accompanied Luis Rubiales to the top of Spanish football


Instead of celebrating its women’s World Cup triumph, Spanish football has been overshadowed by the actions of one of its most powerful men.

President of the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) Luis Rubiales has been suspended for 90 days after grabbing and kissing player Jenni Hermoso after the final in Sydney on 20 August.

She says that in “no moment” did she consent to the kiss.

And while the 46-year-old claims he’s the subject of a “witch hunt” by “false feminists”, it’s not the first time he’s faced controversy.

Here Sky News looks at his rise to prominence.

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Sky’s Rob Harris explains the latest developments in the kissing row

Late start to footballing career

Luis Rubiales was born on the Spanish Canary Islands in 1977 but grew up in the southern province of Granada.

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It wasn’t until the early 2000s and his late 20s that his football career took off.

As a defender, he played mainly in Spain’s second division league for clubs such as Mallorca B, Lleida, Xerez and Levante.

Playing for Levante in February 2007
Playing for Levante in February 2007

During his time at Levante, they were promoted to La Liga, with Rubiales making 53 appearances for them between 2004 and 2008.

The first minor controversy of his career also came while he was there, leading his fellow players out on strike over unpaid wages.

At the age of 32 in 2009 he signed a one-year deal to move to Scotland and play for the Hamilton Accies – but left after just two weeks and retired back to Spain.

Accusations of public humiliation during time as union boss

The following year he became the president of the Association of Spanish Footballers (AFE) union.

While his time there was free of scandal, since the World Cup kissing row emerged last week the AFE’s then-marketing and commercial director Tamara Ramos has claimed she quit the AFE having been publicly humiliated by Rubiales on several occasions.

The Spanish FA (RFEF), where Rubiales has now been suspended as president, accused her of “taking advantage of the current media climate”.

Last year Rubiales insisted there is a “campaign to discredit him” over various controversies.

He claimed that he “cannot guarantee one day they will put a bag of cocaine in the boot of my car”, without making clear who he was referring to.

No stranger to controversy as Spanish FA boss

Rubiales remained president of the union until November 2017 when he took his current job as head of the RFEF. He had already been on the board of directors there for six years.

Just a few weeks after securing the job, he sought to assert his power by firing Julen Lopetegui – the Spanish men’s team coach – two days before their first match at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

In June 2019
In June 2019

He had signed to join Real Madrid after the tournament, but Rubiales accused him of being disloyal to his national team.

With a hastily appointed replacement, Spain failed to get beyond the final 16.

The following year the RFEF boss tightened his grip on power by becoming vice president of UEFA.

Rubiales presents singer Chanel with a Spanish football shirt Pic: AP
Rubiales presents singer Chanel with a Spanish football shirt Pic: AP

Read more:
Spanish FA calls ‘extraordinary meeting’ over kiss
Spanish FA boss accuses player he kissed of lying about it
FIFA opens disciplinary proceedings over World Cup kiss

That same year he was back in the headlines for expanding the Spanish Super Cup from two teams – the winners of La Liga and Copa del Rey – to four – including the runners up as well.

He also moved the competition to Saudi Arabia for $40m (£32m) a year – to mass criticism over its record on human and women’s rights.

A Spanish judge is still examining the contracts awarded for the cup, with accusations of a conflict of interest with former Barcelona star Gerard Pique’s company. Rubiales strongly denies all the allegations.

In 2021 an architect tasked with renovating his Valencia home accused him of non-payment and assault.

Rubiales was found not guilty of both charges against Yasmina Eid-Macchet.

In May 2018
In May 2018

World Cup scandal could have cost him key ally

The current controversy over the World Cup kiss isn’t the first of his involvement with the Spanish women’s side.

When 15 players went on strike, citing their coach Jorge Vilda’s attitude to their “emotional and physical wellbeing”, Rubiales was quick to back him.

Jenni Hermoso  is kissed by president of the RFEF Luis Rubiales during the FIFA Womens World Cup 2023 Final football match

Vilda has stayed loyal to him until now, being quoted after Spain’s semi-final victory over Sweden as saying his support “means so much and will always stay with me”.

Rubiales said in return on Friday: “Jorge Vilda, they wanted to do to you the same thing that they are doing to me now. We’ve been through a lot, but we’ve been together.”

Protesters outside the Spanish Football Federation in Las Rozas
Protesters outside the Spanish Football Federation in Las Rozas

Atletico Madrid players and staff hold a banner in support of Spain's Jennifer Hermoso
Atletico Madrid players in support of Jenni Hermoso

Vilda was among those to applaud him during a speech at the RFEF’s general assembly that day – but on Saturday he said his “inappropriate behaviour” had “tarnished a well-deserved victory”.

All of Vilda’s 11 coaching team have now resigned, which is likely to have forced him to pick sides.

Meanwhile players, fans and women across Spain and beyond have made which one they are on abundantly clear.