The Spanish women’s national team has scripted history, making it to its first-ever final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, after beating Sweden 2-1 in the semifinal.
The 2023 World Cup will see a new name etched onto the tournament trophy, when Spain meets England – for the first time in the competition – to battle for the coveted crown.
La Roja has seen the rise of a new team in the build-up of the tournament with a series of controversies surrounding the squad, with Jorge Vilda, the head coach being at the centre of the storm.
As Spain gears up for its first WWC final, Sportstar explains what exactly is the controversy around the Spanish National team.
What is the controversy about?
The major crux of the Spanish women’s National team (which played in the Euros) had a fractious relationship with Jorge, who has been in charge since 2015.
Reportedly, Vilda imposed a rule until 2019 under which the players could not lock their hotel rooms until midnight while on international duty.
Despite several players requesting his sacking, the 42-year-old has continued to be in charge of La Roja. In protest, 15 first-team players ruled themselves out of national team selection last year, but nothing has worked in their favour so far.
Of the 15, only three have travelled to Australia and New Zealand for the World Cup.
Who is Jorge Vilda?
In addition to serving as the women’s football technical director and as the team’s head coach, Vilda is one of the Spanish FA’s most influential members.
He has spent the last 12 years managing women’s football teams across age groups.
His father, Angel Vilda, had a successful career playing football in Spain. In the early 1990s, he worked briefly as a physical trainer in Johan Cruyff’s backroom staff at Barcelona.
While his son began his career as the under-17 manager in 2010, Angel Vilda managed the under-19 Spanish women.
Vilda took over the under-19s four years after his father retired. When Ignacio Quereda was fired after a second dressing room uprising a year later, he was chosen manager of the women’s senior team.
When did the rift escalate?
After Spain’s quarterfinal exit in the Women’s Euros 2022, where Georgia Stanway scored the winner for England in extra-time, Vilda lost control of the dressing room as most players thought the team lacked direction.
A rebellion soon followed.
During the first FIFA international break after the tournament, the nucleus of the team set up a video call with the president of the Spanish Football Association (RFEF), Luis Rubiales.
The meeting was led by captain Irene Paredes and two dressing-room leaders, Jennifer Hermoso and Patricia Guijarro, who all proposed the sacking of Vilda – which was rejected by Rubiales.
The intention was to let him know the team did not feel well-represented under Vilda. The request was led by the team captain Paredes, Guijarro and Hermoso.
“There is general discomfort in the group,” Paredes later told the media after the news was leaked to the Spanish press.
On September 23, seven days before the national squad announcement for friendlies against Sweden and the United States, an email signed by 15 players opted themselves out of selection for the national team unless there are changes in the backroom staff.
Who were the 15 players who opted out?
Though the Spanish FA did not reveal any identity, local reports from Spain said that the players were:
- Barcelona: Patricia Guijarro, Mapi Leon, Claudia Pina, Aitana Bonmati, Mariona Caldentey, Sandra Panos
- Atletico Madrid: Ainhoa Moraza and Lola Gallardo
- Manchester United: Ona Batlle and Lucia Garcia
- Manchester City: Leila Ouahabi and Laia Aleixandri
- Real Sociedad: Nerea Eizaguirre and Amaiur Sarrieg
How did the Spanish FA react?
The Spanish FA heavily criticised the move by the footballers.
“The FA is not going to allow the footballers to keep questioning the role of our national manager and his backroom staff. We are not going to submit to any sort of pressure,” it said, maintaining the fact that Jorge will stay on the job no matter what.
The FA also threatened the protesting players with sanctions between two to five years without being considered for selection.
The protest gained strength when two-time Ballon d’Or Feminin winner Alexia Putellas offered her support for the team, despite not being in the 15 who wrote the e-mail. The Barcelona midfielder was recuperating from an ACL injury then.
What happened next?
Vilda named a new squad for the friendlies, with no players from the 15-member list. The team drew 1-1 with Sweden and then beat the USA and Japan, both former World Cup winners.
“I think I’m right, that I have the strength to create a new team and have a squad that we’re all proud of,” he said. “I ask for respect for the players who are here and are going to give their best to be at a high level to compete.”
By the time the World Cup arrived, there was no respite in the storm. And only three of the 15 – Bonmati, Caldentey and Battle – were named in the WWC squad.
How has Spain performed in the World Cup?
La Roja are the leading goalscorers at the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 with 17 goals – the most they have ever scored in a single edition of the tournament.
They have won five of their six matches in the tournament so far. Before WWC 2023, they had won just one in all its previous World Cups.
Spain has defeated European opposition in each of its knockout-stage matches en route to the final:
- W 5-1 v. Switzerland (round of 16)
- W 2-1 v. Netherlands (aet) (quarter-finals)
- W 2-1 v. Sweden (semi-finals)
It could become only the second team to secure the FIFA Women’s World Cup crown after suffering defeat en route to glory.
As Spain gears up for its biggest-ever match in FIFA Women’s World Cup history, there will be a lot of questions asked irrespective of the results after the final.
The French women’s national team saw a somewhat similar approach from the players to force out the then-head coach Catherine Diacre.
The Spanish FA, however, chose to walk a different path and Sunday’s result may just be a new chapter for Vilda, a divisive figure in Spanish women’s football.
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