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Roman Zozulya returns to Real Betis from Rayo Vallecano amid fan protest

Roman Zozulya of Real Betis Balompie during a La Liga match against Sporting Gijon.
Roman Zozulya joined Real Betis from Dnipro on a three-year contract in June 2016.

Real Betis players on Thursday showed their support for Ukrainian striker Roman Zozulya, who returned to the club after a failed transfer to Spanish team Rayo Vallecano because of protests by fans who accused him of links to radical groups back home.

Players and coach Victor Sanchez appeared at a news conference to condemn the "public lynching of a player whose professional and personal behaviour has been impeccable since he arrived."

Team captain Joaquin Sanchez read a statement expressing the players' "indignation with the extremely serious situation."

He finished by saying that "We are all Zozulya."

Zozulya's loan to second-division side Rayo Vallecano was called off on Wednesday because of protests on social media and insults by a few supporters when he arrived at the club.

Rayo had announced on Tuesday the arrival of the Zozulya on loan from Betis for the remainder of the season.

Rayo radical group Bukaneros and the association of Rayo supporters' clubs "Plataforma ADRV" voiced their opposition to Zozulya's signing, however, erroneously accusing the Ukrainian of being a "neo-Nazi."

The rumours regarding Zozulya's political affiliation dated back to last summer when a newspaper journalist misidentified a Ukrainian national emblem on a shirt that Zozulya was wearing upon his arrival to Betis from Dnipro as a neo-Nazi symbol.

Zozulya wrote an open letter to Rayo fans on the club's website after his transfer was announced in which he stated that "Betis asked for the story that was published to be deleted, and the newspaper did so immediately after recognising the mistake and apologising.

"As I already pointed out during my unveiling at Betis, I have no links to any paramilitary or neo-Nazi groups."

However, police had to be called to the scene after the 27-year-old was insulted during Wednesday's training session by a group of radical fans, and a banner was placed on the training pitch that read: "Vallekas is no place for Nazis."

Zozulya, who is contracted to Betis until June 2019, has returned to Seville.

"The player is very affected, he didn't expect this to happen," Betis sporting director Miguel Torrecilla said on his club's website. "We received the news that he was having problems with a group of radical supporters and the first thing we did was to talk to Rayo.

"We have agreed to protect our player and for him to return to Seville.

"The legal departments of both clubs are working on this matter and we will inform in due course how this situation ends.

"What is clear is that the player since Tuesday at midnight was loaned to Rayo for six months. But we want and we need to protect Roman."

Rayo president Raul Martin Presa has denied reports in Spain that his "club yielded to pressure from radical supporters."

"It has never happened and it never will," Presa told Onda Cero radio. "We have always taken decisions that were for the good of Rayo."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.

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