Spain: Will a damaging dispute have lasting consequences?
After winning the Women’s Ballon d’Or for the second straight year on Monday, Spain midfielder Alexia Putellas was quickly brought down to earth with questions about the fallout that left her national team in disarray.
“All I’m going to say today about the national team is that obviously it’s a subject that makes me very sad,” the Barcelona captain said.
“I think we have to talk about it, but today is not the day. It’s a day of celebration, a historic day, and that’s it.”
Last month, the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) claimed that 15 members of its national team had said they would quit unless head coach Jorge Vilda quits.
This was later denied by the players, who were told they would not be selected for international duty unless they apologized.
Putellas, 28, currently absent with a serious knee injuryhas previously expressed his support for those involved – including Spain captain Irene Paredes, top scorer Jenni Hermoso and midfielder Aitana Bonmati, who came fifth in this year’s Ballon d’Or.
With just nine months until the 2023 Women’s World Cup, BBC Sport takes a closer look at the explosive row which could have detrimental consequences for women’s football in Spain.
What are the main issues?
It is understood the players first raised concerns over training methods, inadequate game preparation and training decisions at Euro 2022, where the squad reached the last eight before lose to eventual winners England.
Spanish journalist Maria Tikas, who writes for national daily Sport, told BBC Sport players that “the results of recent years do not reflect the level of the team”.
Since Vilda’s appointment in 2015, Spain have failed to get past the quarter-finals of a major tournament. They have won around 70% of their matches under Vilda.
At the same time, the Barcelona team, consisting mainly of Spanish players, shone in club football, successively reaching the Champions League finals.
Tikas said there was a general feeling in Spain among fans and journalists that “the federation’s commitment to women’s football is not real and not enough”.
“Players notice a lot of differences between training sessions with their clubs and the national team, as well as many practices that are ‘inappropriate’,” Tikas added.
“They didn’t like that the federation renewed Vilda’s contract until 2024 a few days before the Euros. The message sent was that whatever the outcome of the Euros, Vilda would continue to lead.”
Tikas believes there have been examples of players joining the national team and starting games after recovering from injury – despite medical advice – and a lack of rotation affecting player wellbeing.
Will the situation improve before the World Cup?
Following statements from the RFEF and the players, Vilda told reporters: “I’m deeply hurt. It’s an unfair situation that nobody deserves. I think it’s ridiculous on a global scale.
“This mess is hurting Spanish football. It’s a global embarrassment.”
Hermoso later described the situation as the “The worst moments in the history of women’s football in Spain”.
Vilda was forced to name a depleted squad for matches against Olympic finalists Sweden and world number one United States in October, ruling out 14 members of his previous selection. However, Spain still managed a 1-1 draw and a 2-0 win respectively.
Tikas said these results “advantage” Vilda and the new players.
Nine of the squad members selected for these friendlies came from Real Madrid, and it has been suggested that there is a split between Barcelona and Real players, but Tikas doesn’t believe it.
“There are Real Madrid players who agree with them. However, their club told them not to be part of the group that sent the email and to go with the national team. they were called,” she added.
“I don’t think it’s a separation between Barcelona and Real Madrid players, but it looks like it.”
It is clear that a division has arisen, however, between some of the players and coaching staff and the federation.
“The team that [played in] the last international window is good, but Vilda only trusts them because they are with him,” Tikas said.
“Some of the players involved [Alexia Putellas, Jenni Hermoso and Irene Paredes] are among the best players in their position. Of course, not having them at the World Cup will hurt Spain’s chances.”
Tikas said the situation was “unsustainable” and would likely come down to RFEF president Luis Rubiales’ choice to support Vilda or the players.
“Rubiales will always choose Vilda before anyone else,” Tikas said.
What is the level of support for Vilda?
There was a positive reaction to Vilda’s appointment in 2015 after 30 years under Ignacio Quereda, leading to players publicly airing grievances against a alleged culture of fear and intimidation.
Vilda has had success with Spain’s youth teams, including two gold medals in the U17 Women’s Euro, leading to a nomination for Fifa’s Coach of the Year in 2014.
However, Vilda had not managed a senior team before his appointment, and as women’s football grew in Spain, Tikas said many began to question whether he was “good enough to be in charge”.
“The federation has so much confidence in him because he is very close to President Rubiales, and he is also the sporting director of the RFEF women’s national team system,” Tikas added.
Reaction to the current situation has been mixed in Spain, Tikas said, with many who have followed the team for years not surprised by the latest developments.
“I’m disappointed because this situation happened when Spanish women’s football was at its best and it’s definitely a step backwards,” she added.
“I see what England are doing and I feel envy.
“I think a lot of changes need to be made and the players should always be listened to and their opinion taken into account.
“The players concerned should have talked more and explained their reasons. They don’t want to talk and I think that’s a mistake. Many media are just reporting on one of the parties.”
BBC Sport has contacted the RFEF for a response.