From Rubiales to Greenwood, Mendy and Saudi: an ugly summer for The Beautiful (broken) Game

Spanish football official Luis Rubiales and former Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy Credit: Alamy
Spanish football official Luis Rubiales and former Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy Credit: Alamy

It is often said that sport reflects society and considering the sheer state of men’s football, that speaks volumes. It has been a miserable old summer.


As the last of the wine is drank and the transfer window runs out of time, it’s safe to say that summer is over and what a dreadful time for football it has been. Perhaps the worst ever.

The Women’s World Cup and the success of it was a huge positive that was instantly overshadowed by the behaviour and antics of Spanish Football Federation President Luis Rubiales, who refused to resign from his post despite abusing his position both at the final and god knows how long before.

The saga has become more and more surreal by the day with the Spanish government stepping in, the Federation itself asking to be suspended as a result of that ‘interference’ and risking the involvement of Real Madrid, Barcelona and others in Europe, Rubiales’ mother actually locking herself in a church and going on hunger strike in protest at this supposed ‘witch hunt’, and the Spanish federation’s regional presidents demanding he go.

Truly, stranger than fiction.

Luis Rubiales kissed Jenni Hermoso Credit: Alamy
Luis Rubiales kissed Jenni Hermoso Credit: Alamy

Luis Rubiales kissed Jenni Hermoso on the lips after Spain’s World Cup triumph.

This is no doubt just tip of the iceberg when it comes to institutionalised misogyny and worse in the Spanish women’s national team, otherwise why would the federation be defending one man so much? It is little wonder the entire squad and others have said they will not play for their country until the president is removed for good.

Controversial coach Jorge Vilda, who allegedly has mistreated players over the years and had 15 of them write to the federation last year, remains in his job for now, although his entire coaching staff has stepped down in the last week.

While female players are standing up for themselves and each other, what are the men doing? Very little if truth be told.

Real Betis striker Borja Iglesias has said he won’t accept any call ups ‘until things change’ while his club teammates Isco and Hector Bellerin have also spoken out, the latter like he has done several times before on important issues. There’s also been condemnation from Andres Iniesta and Iker Casillas, although the legendary keeper thought it was funny last year to joke about being in a gay relationship with Carles Puyol, which did little for the position of another vulnerable cohort in the sport.

Outside of that, it’s been relative tumbleweed with Gary Lineker suggesting male players’ lack of comment is due to the backlash they would receive on social media. A bizarre take given they receive flak for all sorts of things and how Lineker put himself in the firing line of the ‘anti-woke’ crowd with his rightful criticism of the British government’s migrant plan earlier this year.

The lack of male players’ voices is particularly damning when you recall the widespread celebration of Benjamin Mendy’s acquittal for multiple rape allegations, which as everyone should know by now, does not mean he is entirely innocent. Instead it points to a failed legal system that makes conviction near-impossible.

Memphis Depay and Paul Pogba’s posts about the now-Lorient full-back were liked by hundreds of players from across the world, with little to no hesitation or thought for the alleged victims in the case.

Like with Rubiales, Mendy was portrayed as a victim as are footballers as a whole, with Depay saying: ‘Who’s going to stand up for us in the time of need not when the damage is already done?’

The irony surely isn’t lost on anyone.

Manchester United also presented Mason Greenwood as a victim despite everyone hearing that audio clip and did just about everything possible to bring him back until the public backlash became too strong as opposed to anything to do with morals, ethics or conscience.

All of these cases showcase how toxic men’s football has become. It’s not been an overnight change but this summer it really has hit home how broken and lost it is.

Of course, like most things, the rot starts from the top.

There is no decent leadership anywhere in the sport from the Spanish Football Federation to UEFA and FIFA, who obviously have been mute over the last week outside of a bare minimum 90-day suspension for Rubiales from the latter. Not even a “Today, I feel Spanish,” was in the works from Gianni Infantino, the clown masquerading as the king.

He did shamefully tell women’s players to ‘pick the right battles’ which seemingly didn’t include standing up against misogyny and sexual misconduct in his opinion.

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As we all know by now, all that the governing bodies who are meant to protect and promote the game and its future care for is the bottom line. Again, not a major difference from years gone by, but it’s gotten out of control. More games, more money, more corruption, more greed and less morals, less ethics and less care for anything else.

It’s for this reason that Qatar got the World Cup and Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi are allowed buy football clubs, despite having some of the worst human rights records in the world. Women have limited rights, it’s illegal to be gay and people are executed yearly for minimal crimes. They have a lot of money though! (it is different to Chelsea’s spend for these reasons, not to say that is healthy either.).

This summer kicked off with an Abu Dhabi-charged Treble and then the Saudi Pro League recruitment drive begin with numerous players making the move, including one who was assumed to be an apparent good guy: moral compass and LGBTQ+ ally, Jordan Henderson.

His hypocrisy was a major blow to that community and reduces the likelihood of a player coming out anytime soon, or other players risking being deemed hypocrites later in their careers by aligning with causes that are opposite to the Saudi Arabian regime.

It sometimes feels unfair to insist that male footballers must be role models but there is very few now that are truly inspirational. Even the best ever in Lionel Messi is an ambassador for Saudi tourism.

The Women’s World Cup prior to Rubiales’ kiss of death showed the good aspects of the sport: unity, teamwork, inspiring younger generations and the players of tomorrow. That the women’s game has significantly less money is a driver of this, it has to be added, but isn’t that better? In it for the love of game as opposed to earning a million pounds a week?

It’s often said that sport reflects society and given men’s football is the sole global game, it especially rings true. The shoddy state of the game is a mirror of the world we currently live in.

While societal changes take longer and the world is a divisive place, men’s football needs to fix itself before it eats itself alive.

A cultural reboot and reset is badly required otherwise what will be left of the sport quickly losing its tag of ‘the beautiful game’? Sadly it feels about as likely as an apology from Rubiales.

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