Luis Rubiales: A Remarkable Transition from Union Leadership to Presidency of Spain’s Football Federation


Luis Rubiales, a figure of both controversy and reform, finds himself in a precarious situation after a recent incident that sparked calls for his resignation. The 46-year-old’s journey has been marked by determination and a penchant for public service.

Hailing from Spain’s Canary Islands but growing up in Motril on the Mediterranean coast, Rubiales embraced a football career that led him to various lower division teams. His final chapter as a player unfolded in 2009 with Scotland’s Hamilton Academical.

Recognized as a modern defender with physical prowess, Rubiales was known for his attacking prowess and unwavering commitment. Former Levante coach Manolo Preciado lauded his dedication and loyalty, as he donned Levante’s jersey from 2003 to 2008.

His fervor for justice manifested during his time at Levante when he spearheaded a player-led protest against unpaid wages. This sense of advocacy seemingly stemmed from his father’s role as Motril’s Socialist mayor during the mid-1990s.

Rubiales continued his quest for players’ rights as the head of the Spanish football players’ union AFE from 2010 to 2017. Under his stewardship, AFE initiated two national player strikes in 2011 and 2015 and established a fund to address unpaid salaries. He also secured a share of La Liga’s TV broadcast rights revenue for AFE.

His rivalry with La Liga president Javier Tebas began in this period and persisted when Rubiales was elected president of the football federation in 2018. Tebas publicly questioned Rubiales’ qualifications for the role.

Rubiales clinched the presidency in 2018 after defeating Juan Luis Larrea. In a bold move shortly after his election, he dismissed Spain’s men’s national coach Julen Lopetegui just before the 2018 World Cup commenced.

Re-elected in 2020, Rubiales faced criticism for expanding Spain’s Super Cup and signing a deal to play it in Saudi Arabia, a nation embroiled in human rights controversies. Despite such challenges, he bolstered the federation’s sponsorship base and revenues, improving conditions for lower-tier teams.

His pivotal decision to triple the budget for women’s football to €406 million ($439 million) bore fruit as the women’s national team clinched victory in the Women’s World Cup. However, recent events, particularly the controversial incident involving Jennifer Hermoso, have cast a shadow over his leadership role.

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