Loan of Ukraine striker called off in Spain after protests

MADRID (AP) " The loan of Ukraine striker Roman Zozulya from Real Betis to second-division club Rayo Vallecano is being called off after protests from Spanish fans who accused the player of having connections to radical groups back home.

Real Betis director Miguel Torrecilla said Wednesday that the clubs had agreed to scrap the move to "protect the person and the player."

"We received news that he is having problems with a radical (fan) group," Torrecilla said. "We talked to Rayo and we agreed that he will return to Seville."

Rayo fans began criticizing Zozulya on social media even before the loan was officially announced on Tuesday. A few supporters insulted the player as he arrived at the club's training center on Wednesday, and a large banner was in place demanding that he left the club.

Torrecilla said the clubs' lawyers would work on the legal details of revoking the transfer, which was made just before the end of the European transfer deadline.

Because the move to Rayo went through, Zozulya is not expected to be allowed to play for Betis or another European club until the new transfer window opens in the summer.

"He is very disturbed," Torrecilla said. "He didn't expect that this could happen. Yesterday he wrote a text to all Rayo fans but apparently it didn't reach certain sectors, so we will take him back."

The 27-year-old striker released an open letter to Rayo fans immediately after he was signed, saying the "misunderstanding" about his views happened when he arrived in Spain last year to play for Betis wearing a shirt that a local journalist thought displayed a badge supporting radical groups in his native country. He said that the journalist admitted the mistake at the time and issued an apology.

Zozulya said in his letter, which was released by the club on its website, that he supported the army back home to "help protect" his country at an "extremely difficult time" of war, but didn't support nor was linked to "any paramilitary or neo-Nazi groups," as many had alleged on social media.

"I know that this work that I've done fully coincides with the social values heralded by Rayo Vallecano and its unconditional fans," he wrote.

Rayo Vallecano, based just outside Madrid, was relegated to the second division last season. It is currently 17th in the 22-team standings.

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

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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