Analysis: Wear, Tear and Anger: The Painful Road To Spain’s World Cup Glory

On the surface, everything looks great for Spain’s women’s national team. It’s the first time La Roja have lifted the World Cup trophy. It’s also the first major trophy for manager Jorge Vilda. On the surface. However one only needs to look through some of the numerous cracks to sense the potential for an earthquake, which has been tearing apart the team over the past 365 days.  

Even for casuals, the tension and division was palpable in the celebrations. Coaches and players celebrated on opposite ends of the pitch, demonstrating the unfiltered reality of La Roja’s current situation. It’s not a problem of yesterday, and it’s not a problem that will likely soon fade away. Luis Rubiales kissed Jenni Hermoso during the celebration, a highly-criticised move that only adds fuel to the fire. Was there a necessity for the RFEF president to make it about himself, once again? Hermoso later came out saying that she ‘didn’t enjoy it [the kiss]’. Irene Montero, the provisional Spanish minister of quality, did not hide her anger – “a form of sexual violence that we women suffer on a daily basis and until now has been invisible”. Instead of apologising for his actions, Rubiales instead told the radio to “not listen to these idiots […] and let us enjoy these moments”.

After all, it’s probably the best representation of everything that’s wrong with the feminina team. The direction and the players cooperate together (to a certain extent), but definitely live in two different realities. It only takes a little time travel to understand where all the conflict started, over a year ago, when fifteen players signed a letter demanding improvements in Jorge Vilda and the Federation’s management. Players would have their bag searched and the staff and they would often be asked where they would spend their off-times. Many, despite being close to Vilda’s age, were still treated as fifteen year-old teenagers. It didn’t sit well with the players, therefore demanding changes.

Some of these demands were met — complaints included amateur management when it came to injury rehabilitation — as a nutritionist and a physiotherapist soon landed in the training camps. Still, it wasn’t enough, when Vilda still introduced substitutes that were not 100% fit, and as such, suffered early relapses. Though it was a big part, the complaints about Vilda weren’t only on his patriarchal, condescending management style — it was about the football, too. Some of his preferences were seen at the previous euros, calling up ten Real Madrid players against Sweden a year ago. The players were tired. 

When the RFEF received the complaints, a deaf ear was all the players got as a response. They were seen as black-mailers, trying to bring down Vilda, and Rubiales came out the next day in the media reaffirming his unconditional support for his coach. He himself claimed that ‘Las 15’ (as dubbed by Spanish media) rebels would only make him stronger, preferring to call up new players that ‘want to play for Spain’, as Vilda only fell further into his narcissism. The result was catastrophic — La Roja knocked out in the quarterfinals, and yet Vilda still claimed to be a victim of the timing of the boycott of ‘Las 15’.  

The World Cup was just as similar in terms of atmosphere. From the other side of the globe, in New Zealand, the players felt this same pressure. Internal meetings were made between the players, often resisting Vilda’s orders. But the group was united, just without Vilda. Whatever Vilda said, the players had their own opinion. For the World Cup, some of the rebels were indeed called up, the most prominent being Barcelona’s Aitana Bonmati.  

You could tell Spain’s squad wasn’t bad at all. Nobody ever doubted their quality. In the World Cup final, England might have found two or three chances in the first quarter of the game, but they were negligible in comparison to the dominance Spain went on to display, in very stereotypical fashion. Spanish fans will remember how Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team dominated the 2011 Champions League Final at Wembley against Manchester United — similarly, England never found themselves during the 90’ of the game, despite the 1-0 score.

The Lionesses like to dominate, and they tend to enjoy games where they’re pro-active. However, that was barely the case against Spain, who pride themselves as the culture of possession and technicians. The Spaniards were juggling the ball between England’s lines of defences, as if they were ghosts.  

And everything seemed to end perfectly, at the end. If it wasn’t for Rubiales’ kiss, and for the fact that Olga Carmona — captain and scorer in the final, was told that her father had died, and therefore had not seen her lift the trophy — that’s how harsh life is, and how quickly heaven and hell can intervene in one’s life. 

There’s little doubt that this is historic for La Roja — for all the wrong and right reasons. Alexia Putellas, sparingly involved on the pitch but vocal as ever as a natural leader in spite her injuries, reminded the world that there’s still a lot to fight for in women’s football. “The battle of the players is not just in one country. It’s very repetitive. There are many countries where players have to fight, instead of dedicating themselves 100% to football. This is where FIFA must be accountable.” While Spain’s achievements are undeniable, one must wonder what could have been and will be if and when these internal issues are resolved. If and when players won’t have to worry about a hostile environment, and will be allowed to work in fair conditions once again. 

Tags 2023 World Cup England Spain La Roja World Cup
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