By refusing to play until changes are made, 15 players have exposed a larger dilemma inside the national squad.
Around seven o’clock on Thursday evening, the emails began to arrive at the federation: fifteen of them were written in the first person but all said the same thing in the same wording. According to the letters, “I inform you that the events that have taken place and the situation that has emerged in the Spanish national team, a scenario of which you are aware, are having a significant impact on my emotional condition and, consequently, my health.” “As a result, I don’t think I’m in a position to be selected for the national team right now, and I ask,”
After three weeks since the last insurrection, a new one had started. Even while they did not state it in those exact terms, the coach not named, more than half of the Spain team withdrew in a single minute, deciding they would not return as long as Jorge Vilda remains in charge and nothing changes. They had pressed the federation’s president, Luis Rubiales, to implement reforms that would have included Vilda in women’s football in August. When Rubiales had refused, they had attempted to have Vilda walk but he would not. They had now made up their minds to act in this manner. On more than one level, this could not go on.
Some of those players took the mention of their mental state and health more seriously than others did. There is no indication of inappropriate behavior, but the relationship with Vilda had soured—if there had ever been a relationship—and its effects were negative for everyone. The situation with the federation is currently playing out publicly and is only getting worse. The division was widened by a later statement released by the players on Friday night.
Vilda is viewed as dominated by the majority of Spain’s players, who also view him as incompetent. Additionally, he had come to represent something bigger: a persistent impression that Rubiales did not genuinely support women’s football. According to people close to the players, the method they choose was the only option available. The players expressed regret that it had “gone to this extreme” to “progress” in their statement on Friday.
Ainhoa Vicente, Mapi León, Aitana Bonmat, Mariona Caldentey, Sandra Paos, Andrea Pereira, Clàudia Pina, Ona Batlle, Laia Aleixandre, Leila Ouahabi, Luca Garcia, Lola Gallardo, Amateur Sarriegi, and Nerea Eizagirre all wrote emails at the same time. The core of the team consists of six players from Barcelona, two from each Manchester City, Manchester United, Atlético Madrid, and Real Sociedad, and a player from the United States.
They weren’t the only ones there. Although the Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas had not sent a letter, an injury prevented her from participating in the tournaments in October. She had already shown her support for her teammates, and on Friday they released a statement together. The squad’s captain, Irene Paredes, had felt criticized when she led the rebellion in August but decided to back off because she supported the goals. If none of the Real Madrid players responded, it was likely because their club put pressure on them not to, adding a political element to how this is all played out.