The case of Roman Zozulya is a devilish tricky one: the Ukraine international signed for Rayo on loan from Betis but was rejected by the Bukaneros, Rayo’s intractable ultras. Photographs of Zozulya toting firearms have been doing the rounds and it is well-known (and indeed he defines himself thus) that he is a Ukrainian patriot, an activist driven by the consequences of the situation in the region, where Russia is helping itself to illicit bites of the pie. That is a reasonable explanation for some of the photographs. But he has not been convicted of anything and there is no reason he should prevented from carrying out his employment, other than the fact that the Bukaneros greeted his arrival with threats, rattling both Zozulya and Rayo president Raúl Martín Presa, who was also the subject of their ire.
On Thursday there was a meeting between the AFE players’ union, LaLiga chief Javier Tebas, Presa and the player. Betis president Ángel Haro was present via conference call. What emerged from the meeting was an agreement to offer Zozulya and his family security (he has a wife and two children, aged six and a few months old) if he elects to play for Rayo. At the moment, he has returned to Sevilla to consider his options. His Betis teammates on Thursday read out a statement, with Joaquín, the captain, at the players’ head, offering him their support and praise. But Zozulya cannot play for Betis again this season as he has been registered with three clubs already this season. He can play at Rayo or he cannot play at all until June.
The saddest aspect of this mess is that the Bukaneros have got their way. They have had it in for Presa for some time and here they saw their opportunity to bring things to a head. When he took over at the club six years ago, Presa made the naïve mistake to invite the Bukaneros to a high-profile game against Sevilla. He later discovered the lay of the land and disowned them. Ever since then they have been out to cause Presa as much trouble as possible (they once sabotaged the electrics at the Vallecas Stadium before a match against Real Madrid) for better and for worse. The question is whether Zozulya and Presa have the courage to face up to the situation, and if that is even a viable possibility. The alternative is to let the ultras win.