As captain of Spain’s national team, it was Álvaro Morata’s job to read this past Monday the statement in which the squad members condemned Luis Rubiales’ behavior during and after the celebration of the Women’s World Cup. Writing the document was not an easy task, due to the disparity of opinions among the 23 players called up by Luis de la Fuente for the matches against Georgia and Cyprus. While some wanted a harsher letter, others preferred something more restrained. As for the youngest ones, like 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, the matter was just too much. Morata would prefer to talk about soccer, but he accepts with resignation that the interview revolves around the Rubiales case. His blank stare reveals his discomfort, as he tries not to add more fuel to the fire with his evasive answers.
Question. How did the idea of making a statement arise?
Answer. We all got together to discuss it, being an issue that we felt we needed to address publicly. We are in the federation now, we represent it. We are the visible faces, and we thought that we had to [make a statement]. Each person in their own club is free to express their personal feelings and [decide whether] to opine or not.
Q. Why did you take so long to denounce what happened?
A. Some people like to speak publicly, others don’t. There are many players [in the squad], and each one has their own opinion. You have to reach a point of agreement. Anyone who wanted to make a personal statement earlier could have done it, as some players have. This depends on what each person feels, how they face the issue and how they see it.
Q. Borja Iglesias was the first to denounce it; he even quit the national team. Did he contact you as captain to communicate his decision?
A. We’re very close, we talk often... But we have not talked about this. The captain is chosen when the called-up players meet. I didn’t even know if I was coming, or him. Borja has his opinion and likes to express it. I respect him, and I’m very fond of him.
Q. Jennifer Hermoso is not mentioned by name in the statement. Did you ever consider naming her?
A. The intention of the statement was to show our full support for all the players, and she is part of the squad that won the World Cup. We support each and every one of the players who became world champions.
Q. Did you contemplate requesting the resignation of Luis Rubiales as part of the statement?
A. This matter is not in our hands. We are not judges. It is a very complicated question; those of us who are here had to show our faces and, above all, not let such a delicate issue go unnoticed. We cannot deal out justice, our job is playing soccer, but it was an important matter that we, at least, had to speak out on.
Q. However, the name of Luis Rubiales does appear in the text that you read. Were you clear that it had to appear?
A. There are many different opinions, and in the end you have to reach a middle ground. Some people think one way and others think differently. You can’t control everyone’s opinion.
Q. Do you think Rubiales should resign?
A. This is not my decision to make.
Q. Sergio Busquets was very clear shortly after his appearance with the rest of the captains. He said: “I neither tolerate nor consent to the actions of the president.” Did you speak to him, as a former captain of the national team, to ask him for advice?
A. We have been in touch with him as a friend, as a teammate and as a person; not as a former captain of the national team. He is highly respected here. Personally, when I’ve spoken with him, it has been about our families and personal lives, not about this.
Q. Did you feel any pressure from people within the federation who did not want you to release the statement?
A. We said from the start that we were going to issue a statement. I don’t know what would have happened if someone had refused. The statement is there, and we knew it was going to come out.
Q. Lola Gallardo is the captain of Atlético de Madrid and one of the 15 players who quit the national team. Have you talked to her?
A. I spoke with many of the players to congratulate them on the week they won the World Cup; I haven’t had contact with them again.
Q. Do you feel a tense atmosphere?
A. It’s not tense, but it’s different. Maybe we should just worry about playing soccer, but we can’t overlook a matter like this because it has to do with the federation.
Q. You prefer that we only talk about soccer because you are playing for qualification for the European Championship in the next two matches, but do you understand that the press must ask about this?
A. There’s a lot at stake, but it is an issue that had to be faced, and we cannot act as if nothing had happened.
Q. Is the pressure increasing? Can all of this affect you in the matches against Georgia and Cyprus?
A. With the Spanish jersey, the pressure is always at its maximum.
Q. What do you think about coach Luis de la Fuente, who has also been highly questioned for applauding Rubiales in the assembly?
A. Well, it’s a complicated situation for him. In the press conference he gave he said what he felt in all humility.
Q. Would you have applauded?
A. I didn’t have to be there. Let’s just hope this is the last thorny issue in the federation.
Q. What different nuances are there between Luis Enrique and De la Fuente?
A. They have two different ways of seeing soccer; what they have in common is that they care a lot about the personal factor and that everyone is well. They are both good guys.
Q. At Atlético, you are scoring goals as a starter and coming off the bench.
A. Hopefully, it will serve to win a title with Atlético. Last year, the last six months were very different from the first. I wish I didn’t have to play more for us to win the League, Cup or Champions League. I don’t care if I score five goals or don’t play anymore; what I want is to win a title with Atlético.
Q. Your teammate Carrasco went to Saudi Arabia. Are you staying despite the offers you have received?
A. There are always possibilities in different markets, not only in Saudi Arabia, but the club and the coach have shown that they wanted me to stay.
Q. The offers from Saudi Arabia are dizzying, but isn’t it giving up competing at the highest level just for money?
A. It doesn’t have to be that way. Laporte went there, but he was called up and he is here. If the level of the Saudi Arabian League continues to rise, they will not be the only ones. You also have to look at everyone’s particular situation. I think of how the pressure there is different, you can spend more time with the family... I don’t know, because I haven’t experienced it. Everyone has their own motivations.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition