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Power feud: Spain's top soccer officials at odds

MADRID (AP) — When the newly elected president of the Spanish soccer federation decided to fire the national team's coach a day before the World Cup, it was clear that Luis Rubiales was a man who stood by his beliefs and wouldn't be easily influenced by others.

His counterpart in the Spanish league, Javier Tebas, was already known for his unshakable determination to get things done his way, and had also shown he was not someone who easily backed down from a fight.

With two strong-minded men holding the most powerful positions in Spanish soccer, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a power feud has emerged. Rubiales and Tebas have been at odds about almost everything so far, rarely missing a chance to take shots at each other.

It seems personal at times. Tebas said Rubiales was not prepared for being the federation's president. Rubiales said Tebas was disrespectful. Rubiales claims he has tried to straighten relations with the league, but that Tebas always pulled back. Tebas said such attempts never happened.

"The relationship (between the federation and the league) remains the same," Rubiales said. "We offered to open a dialogue and if they want a dialogue it's going to happen, but if they don't, we won't talk to each other. You can't force anybody to talk. We will always remain open to a dialogue."

Tebas said Rubiales never called him to sit down, and that the relationship between the league and the federation was better in some aspects during the time of Angel Maria Villar, the embattled former president who Tebas long criticized.

"I know very well that the federation is above the league in hierarchy, but there are laws that regulate the responsibility of each institution and they need to be respected," Tebas said. "Villar never interfered with that model, he understood it. It's strange that I can't get along with Rubiales.

One of the first spats between the officials came after Rubiales' hasty decision to fire Spain coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the World Cup because the manager took a job with Real Madrid without telling federation officials. Tebas publicly said the decision shouldn't have been done in the heat of the moment, and that Spain's early elimination in the World Cup might not have happened if Lopetegui had stayed.

The latest disagreement came this week after Rubiales criticized the Spanish league's financial control measures, especially in the lower divisions, and hinted that the league was hostage to television contracts.

The comments prompted the league to issue a statement asking Rubiales to retract himself, something that never happened. In a speech during an event organized by Europa Press on Wednesday, Tebas several times indirectly defended himself from Rubiales' attacks, saying all of his decisions are made to "protect the industry" and to keep Spanish soccer growing.

The biggest conflict between Tebas and Rubiales so far emerged over the league's attempt to play a regular-season match in the United States. Tebas wanted to take the Girona-Barcelona game to Miami to help promote Spanish soccer, but the federation turned down the idea last year after raising concerns that the overseas game would not comply with Spanish and international regulations and TV broadcast contracts, and that it could harm the other 18 league clubs not involved in the match.

Tebas kept saying the match would happen despite of Rubiales' disapproval, saying in an interview with CNN that he would bet 10,000 euros ($11,400) on it. It was a big victory for Rubiales to keep the game from happening, but Tebas has already pledged to keep fighting over it.

It's clear the disagreements aren't over.

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Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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