Soccer  

Spain women’s team to replace 15 players threatening to quit over head coach stay

Spain are prepared to play with “younger and less experienced players” after 15 women’s internationals threatened to quit if head coach Jorge Vilda is not dismissed, the Spanish FA’s women’s football chief Ana Alvarez has said.

A statement signed by the unsettled players and sent by email to the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) on Thursday said they were “renouncing” the national team as the situation was strongly affecting their health and emotional state.

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The players have not stated specific reasons for their demand that Vilda be replaced, nor explicitly called for him to leave. According to sources close to the situation, the players are unhappy with the management of injuries, the atmosphere in the locker room, Vilda’s team selection and his training sessions.

The list of players includes the team’s third captain, Patri Guijarro; goalkeeper Sandra Panos and midfielder Aitana Bonmati. Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas is not among the players who signed the statement.

The email read: “The general situation on the Spanish national team generated by recent events, events which [the federation] is aware of, is greatly affecting my emotional state and therefore my health.”

“Due to this, I presently do not consider myself to be a available for our national team and therefore ask to not be called up until this situation changes.”

The email adds the player’s “full commitment to the team in the past, present and future.”

RFEF said it would not fold to pressure from any player regarding sporting matters and labelled their actions as being “far from exemplary and out of the values of soccer and sport.”

“If we have to play with younger and less experienced players we will because the national team is above everything,” Alvarez said. “This is very, very serious and has never happened before, hence it’s unexpected.”

Alvarez said Vilda, who has been in charge since 2015 and is under contract until 2024, has the federation’s full support.

“Jorge Vilda is like we all are,” she said. “I spoke to him. This situation is not nice.

“Vilda wants to continue and for sure we want him to continue.”

While saying she does not question the emotional distress of the players, Alvarez said there had been no reports of verbal or sexist abuse similar to the ones that have been leveled by former players against Vilda’s predecessor, Ignacio Quereda, whom Vilda replaced in 2015.

Despite the national team’s three captains — Irene Paredes, Jenni Hermoso and Guijarro — denying last month that they had asked for Vilda’s resignation, tension has been mounting between Spain players and their coach.

“They [players] have decided to take this firm step,” Alvarez said. “It’s their decision and it’s been noted. If they don’t want to come and are not committed at this time, that’s what it will be. We are not going to question how the players feel. They have already said it in a very clear way via a statement.”

The Spanish soccer federation has said that the players will not be allowed to return until they “ask for forgiveness.”

United States forward Megan Rapinoe has issued her support for the unsettled Spain players.

Rapinoe said in an Instagram post: “You’ve got a 16th standing with you in the United States. These many players together like this is so powerful. We should all listen.”

The Spanish government, meanwhile, is hoping the situation will be resolved.

Spain’s sports council already had to act as mediator earlier this month after female referees went on strike demanding improved conditions in what was the first season of a fully professional women’s league in Spain.

The council’s president, Jose Manuel Franco, who described the players’ threat to quit as “disgraceful”, told Spanish radio program COPE: “Spanish women’s football was acquiring a vital and unique importance in Europe.

“We cannot afford this type of situation. Representing your country in any sport is the maximum any Spaniard can aspire to.”

Spain have two friendlies coming up, first against Sweden on Oct. 7 and the United States four days later.

Vilda guided Spain to the quarterfinals of Euro 2022 before losing in extra time to eventual winners England.

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.