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What is happening to women’s football in Spain?

15 players have been omitted from the Spanish National Team after threatening to resign if head coach Jorge Vilda was not sacked.

On Thursday 22nd September 2022, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) announced that it had received identical emails from 15 of its most recognisable players, stating that they would resign from the national team if head coach Jorge Vilda was not fired. According to the RFEF, the players had expressed concerns for their emotional well being and physical health if the current situation were to continue.

Within the next twenty four hours the 15 players were revealed to be: Laia Aleixandri, Ona Batlle, Aitana Bonmatí, Mariona Caldentey, Nerea Eizagirre, Lola Gallardo, Lucía García, Patri Guijarro, Mapi León, Leila Ouahabi, Sandra Paños, Andrea Pereira, Clàudia Pina, Amaiur Sarriegi and Ainhoa Vicente.

The players released a joint statement announcing that they had not called for Jorge Vilda to be sacked, but that they refused to play under his tenure whilst the standards of the national team remained so poor.

Players were also critical of the methods of the national team boss, highlighting the mismanagement of injuries and the ‘lack of communication’ that caused so many to take such drastic measures.

Spain’s top goal scorer, Jenni Hermoso, also released a statement in support of her fellow team mates, noting their frustrations and reiterating the point that the national team situation must improve for the sake of the women’s game in Spain. She branded the mutiny as the ‘worst moment’ in the history of women’s football in Spain, a sentiment actually shared by the national team head coach.

When questioned on the unprecedented rebellion, Jorge Vilda hit back at his players, stating that he “wouldn’t wish what I’m going through on anyone” and that the “farce” was “hurting women’s football.”

Vilda has an extensive history with the national team, head coach since 2015, and a youth team coach before that, he has seen the likes of Balon D’or winner Alexia Putellas develop into star names in the women’s game. Spain were also unbeaten for two years before their Euro quarter-final exit to eventual winners England.

For the country’s next round of fixtures, against Sweden and the United States of America, Vilda has made 10 changes to the team selected in September, with 6 never having made national team selection before.

Unfortunately it seems unlikely that there will be a breakthrough any time soon, with Jorge Vilda’s contract running until 2024. The RFEF also made it clear that none of the 15 players will be allowed back into the national team until they “accept their mistake and ask for forgiveness”, suggesting that players could be disqualified for up to five years for their ‘harmful’ behaviour.

This is not the first time inadequate working conditions have caused problems in Spanish women’s football this season. On the opening weekend of its new professional league, the referees of Liga F went on strike. They were calling for professionalisation, an improvement on working conditions, as well as for pay to come in line with that in the men’s game.

An agreement was eventually reached, with referees' pay rising from 300 euros (£260) to 1,666 euros (£1,446) per match. Assistant referees will also receive the same amount - up from 166 euros (£144) and fourth officials will see their pay boosted from 84 euros (£73) to 250 euros (£217).

Reports suggested that the Royal Spanish Football Federation had wanted referees to be paid 21,000 euros (£18,226) per match, but organisers remained firm on the fact that they want the league to be sustainable. They say that big of an increase would have equated to 70% of the broadcasting income that the competition generates, therefore making it impossible to sustain over a long period of time.

Fortunately, the dispute was resolved, but it tainted what was meant to be an exciting step in women’s football in Spain - a brand new professional league, riding the wave of successes in the women’s game - record breaking crowds at the Camp Nou, and arguably the greatest tournament the women’s game has ever seen in the UEFA Women’s Euros.

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