Jhe emails arrived at the federation around 7 p.m. Thursday evening: 15 of them written in the first person but all saying the same thing in exactly the same words. “I inform you that the events that have occurred and the situation that has occurred in the Spanish national team, a situation of which you are aware, have a significant effect on my emotional state and by extension on my health”, reads -on in the letters. “As a result, I do not consider myself currently fit to be chosen for the national team and ask not to be called up until the situation is resolved.”
Another mutiny had begun, three weeks after the last one. Within a single minute, more than half of the Spain squad had pulled out, determined not to return until nothing changed and Jorge Vilda was in charge – even though they didn’t explicitly say so. in these terms, the coach not named. In August, they pushed FA president Luis Rubiales to make changes to women’s football which included Vilda; when Rubiales had refused, they had tried to make Vilda walk but he wouldn’t. Now they had decided they would instead. This couldn’t go on, on more than one level.
For some of these players, the reference to their emotional state, to their health, was not an empty word. There is no suggestion of inappropriate behavior, but the relationship with Vilda had broken down – to the extent that there was even a relationship at all, and the impact of this was detrimental to all. Now the relationship with the federation has also gone public and is only getting worse. A subsequent statement released by the players on Friday evening widened the gap.
Many Spanish players consider Vilda to be in control; most consider him incapable. He had also become a symbol of something larger: a feeling, repeatedly confirmed, that Rubiales didn’t really believe in women’s football. The means they chose, according to those close to the players, the only means they could. The players’ statement on Friday lamented having “come to this extreme” to “move forward”.
In part, this can be seen as part of a process of professionalization of women’s football in Spain: as the game progresses, the level rises and the demands increase, some are left behind. Frankly speaking, many players think Vilda should have been. Instead, he’s still here, seven years after taking over as national team coach. Others are too. In the meantime, they have become increasingly aware of their collective cause, of the success to which they could and perhaps should aspire, an ambition which they feel others have failed to share.
Thus, the emails were sent simultaneously, one each from Patri Guijarro, Mapi León, Aitana Bonmatí, Mariona Caldentey, Sandra Paños, Andrea Pereira, Clàudia Pina, Ona Batlle, Laia Aleixandri, Leila Ouahabi, Ainhoa Vicente, Lucía García, Lola Gallardo, Amaiur Sarriegi and Nerea Eizagirre. Six players from Barcelona, the core of the team, and two from Manchester City, Manchester United, Atlético Madrid and Real Sociedad, plus one from America.
It was more than them. Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas hadn’t written but injury meant she wouldn’t be available for selection for October games anyway. She had previously expressed her support for her teammates, and did so again by releasing their joint statement on Friday. Irene Paredes, the captain, had felt fingers pointed at her when she had been the team’s rebellion figurehead in August and opted to step back, but agreed with the goals. If none of the Real Madrid players wrote, it was at least partly because of the pressure put on them by their club not to join, a political dimension of how it all plays.
The players did not consider this a case of renouncing the national team definitively; the choice of language in their first letter reflected a desire to avoid this and their statement the next day even claimed that the RFEF had asked them to confirm if they were available, to then reveal their collective response. They called the RFEF’s statement “partial and self-serving”.
The original email insisted they were “absolutely committed to the national team” in the past, present and future, keen to “seek the best for our national team”. What that solution would be was left unsaid and a full public explanation was absent. When the players spoke in August, no actual details were given and the emails and statement lacked detail, with instead references to “the situation” and “events” which were not defined. The key question – why? – did not receive a response.
That was partly because he didn’t need to be defined, at least not then: those emails were privately sent to the RFEF – it wasn’t until the next day that the exact content was revealed by radio Cadena Ser – and they were correctly referring to a situation “of which you are aware”. The federation was not entirely wrong when it interpreted the emails as a “question[ing] the continuity of the coach”, a means of “exerting pressure”. He already knew that, but didn’t side with the players, instead moving against them.
It was the federation that made the letters public, which the players were unhappy with, when they responded with a statement just over four hours later. The belligerent tone and content of the statement did not invite rapprochement. Describing the decision as ‘unprecedented in the history of football’, unethical and lacking in dignity, the letters ‘coincidentally written in the same way’, the federation insisted they would not back down. to the pressures. There would be no talks; this rebellion would simply be suppressed. It may not turn out to be so simple, however.
He reminded players that refusing to play for the national team could result in two to five year bans and said he would not call any of the players involved until they “admit their mistake and get away with it.” excuse”. “The RFEF will not allow players to question the continuity of the coach, as making such decisions is not part of their role,” the statement promised. The following night, the players responded by saying they would not “tolerate” the RFEF’s “infantile” tone.
In August, during an emergency press conference hosted by the captains and supported on social media by Putellas after the story of a mutiny against their coach, Paredes claimed that the players had not asked for the sacking from Vilda. She said they knew their job was just to play but insisted ‘sometimes you have to talk even when people don’t like it’ and revealed they were reassured things would change .
They do not have. If the federation thought it had mastered the crisis, matches against Hungary and Ukraine comfortably won in early September, it exploded again. There is not a simple explanation, but rather a series of small cumulative explanations.
For some Spanish players, joining the national team has become something to endure, not enjoy. A source close to them speaks of anguish, players in tears, an unbearable atmosphere. There is little communication with Vilda, who is the coach and sporting director of one and whom they consider to be bossy. The environment has become tense, sometimes unpleasant.
Some within the team consider that the coach is in a position he does not deserve, put there more by personal relations than by qualifications, protected by the president who they doubt really believes in women’s football . According to them, other equally unqualified people occupy positions of power around him.
Vilda’s tactics, methods and group management have come under internal criticism from players demanding more, with her game plans seen as lacking or non-existent. A statement released by the players on Friday recalled that they had not called for his dismissal “as claimed” but had “constructively and honestly expressed what we believe can improve the performance of the group”.
Spain are no longer at the level they were in 2015, but far beyond, Vilda becoming for many of them the symbol of something much bigger: of a federation that does not keep pace of this progress. The players decided that something had to be done. The traditional ways were not accessible to them so they opted for collective action.
“Maybe the players have gone too far,” said Jose Manuel Franco, the Spanish sports council president. “Vilda’s situation is very difficult at the moment. I hope there can be a dialogue and that they can come to an agreement. The federation must solve this problem – for the good of women’s football.
Which isn’t all that different from what the players have been saying all along. At 6:35 p.m. local time on Friday night, all the players posted the same thing on social media, a collective statement in which they stood their ground, putting this dispute in a larger context and reminding everyone of the risk they were taking. “Could anyone seriously see this as a whim or an act of blackmail?” he asked.
“We lament the fact that in women’s sport, it has to come to this, as has unfortunately historically been the case in other teams and other sports, to advance a strong and ambitious professional project for the present. and for future generations.”