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The Spanish women’s national team was plunged into crisis on Thursday night when 15 players declared themselves unavailable for selection for as long as Jorge Vilda continues as head coach.
Each of the players have written to the Spanish Federation (RFEF) insisting that the situation with the coach, who they had failed to have removed at the end of August, has affected their health and emotional state and that they do not intend to return until a solution is found.
Six Barcelona players were among those who sent emails, as were Manchester United players Ona Batlle and Lucía García, and Manchester City players Laia Aleixandri and Leila Ouahabi. Captain Irene Paredes and Ballon D’Or winner Alexia Putellas were not among them, but injury meant the latter was already unavailable for the upcoming games in October.
The Federation responded with a strongly worded statement describing this as “unprecedented in the history of football”, a situation that “goes beyond sport to be a question of dignity”, and insisting that it would not give in to pressure. The Federation noted that refusing to play for the national team could result in bans of between two and five years but declared that it would just not call up any of the players involved until they “admit their error and apologise”. The Federation will field youth players if necessary.
The letters come three weeks after a mutiny in which members of the Spain squad expressed their dissatisfaction with Vilda to the president Luis Rubiales. They then confronted Vilda too, but he refused to step down. The players appeared in a press conference together – supported on social media by Putellas – in which Paredes insisted that they had “not asked for him to be sacked” but admitted that “the captains, representing the group, communicated the way we feel.” She said that they had been reassured that there would be changes.
Spain played Ukraine on 6 September. On Friday, emails arrived from Patri Guijarro, Mapi León, Aitana Bonmatí, Mariona Caldentey, Sandra Paños, Andrea Pereira and Clàudia Pina from Barcelona, as well as Batlle, Aleixandri, Ouahabi, Ainhoa Vicente, Lucía García, Lola Gallardo, Amaiur Sarriegi and Nerea Eizagirre. None of the Real Madrid players sent emails.
The Federation refused to bow to that pressure, and the belligerent tone and language used in their response underlined that reconciliation will be extremely difficult. A statement released late on Thursday night confirmed that they had received 15 letters which, it noted, were all “coincidentally written the same way”.
“The RFEF will not allow the players to question the continuity of the coach, as taking those decisions are not part of their role,” the statement vowed. “The Federation will not accept any type of pressure being exerted by any player when it comes to making sporting decisions. This type of scheming does not fit the values of football or sport and are damaging.”
“According to Spanish legislation, not answering the call from the national team is classified as a grave infraction and can lead to suspensions of between two and five years. [But] the RFEF, in contrast to the behaviour of these players, wants to make it clear that it will not take matters to that extreme nor will it put pressure on players. It will simply not call up those players who do not wish to wear the Spanish shirt.
“The RFEF will only call upon players who are committed, even if that means playing with youth players. The national team needs players who are committed to the project and the defence of our colours and who are proud to wear Spain’s shirt. The players who have presented their resignation will only return in the future if they admit their error and apologise.”
Spain are due to play Sweden in Córdoba on 7 October. Under Vilda, Spain reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2022, where they lost in extra-time to England.