Carles Puyol has apologised for making a "clumsy joke" in response to a tweet from Iker Casillas' account on Sunday, after it appeared the former goalkeeper had come out as gay.
A post attributed to Real Madrid and Spain great Casillas read: "I hope you respect me: I'm gay."
Although the message was widely shared on social media, suspicions over its validity or seriousness emerged when Puyol replied to say it was time for the duo to "tell our story", followed by kissing and love-heart emojis.
Llegó el momento: Casillas y Puyol van a contar lo suyo. Lo suyo es que son homófobos y gilipollas. Lo suyo no sorprende a nadie. pic.twitter.com/Q3OuMQf13C— Bob Pop (@BobPopVeTV) October 9, 2022
Spanish media reports subsequently suggested Casillas' original message was an ironic response to rumours concerning a potential relationship with actress Alejandra Onieva.
Casillas has since claimed his account was hacked and apologised for offence caused, and former Barcelona captain Puyol has acknowledged his response was misguided.
"I have made a mistake. Sorry for a clumsy joke with no bad intentions and [which was] totally out of place," Puyol wrote on Twitter.
"I understand that it may have hurt sensitivities. All my respect and support for the LGTBIQA+ community."
Me he equivocado. Perdón por una broma torpe sin ninguna mala intención y absolutamente fuera de lugar. Entiendo que puede haber herido sensibilidades. Todo mi respeto y apoyo a la comunidad LGTBIQA+— Carles Puyol (@Carles5puyol) October 9, 2022
Both players have been heavily criticised for what many believe to be an ill-judged joke, with Adelaide United player Josh Cavallo – who is regarded as the first openly gay professional male footballer – accusing the duo of being "disrespectful" with their messages.