BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — More than half of the Spain women’s team no longer want to play in protest at their coach, though they don’t want him removed.
Fifteen players have told the Spanish federation that being on the team has “significantly” affected their "emotional state” and health.
The players, however, insisted on Friday they have not asked for coach Jorge Vilda to be axed, but instead want from him and the federation "a clear commitment to a professional project with attention paid to all the aspects needed to get the best performance of this group of players.”
"We understand that it is not our job in any case to choose a coach, but it is our job to express in a constructive and honest way what we consider can improve the performance of the group,” the players said in a statement on their social media accounts.
The federation has interpreted the players’ move as an attempt to “pressure” its leadership into firing Vilda, who the players have publicly questioned in recent weeks.
In a statement issued late Thursday, the federation said it “won’t permit its players to question the continuance of the national team coach” and that it wouldn’t “tolerate any type of pressure by any player.”
The rift between players and federation exploded on Thursday when the 15 players sent identical emails to the federation asking not to be called up again because of the emotional pain it meant to play for the team. The email sent by the players was published by local media on Friday. The federation confirmed to The Associated Press that the email was genuine, and the names of the 15 players.
The email said “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.”
The list of 15 players that sent emails included the team’s third captain, Patri Guijarro, goalkeeper Sandra Paños and attacking midfielder Aitana Bonmatí.
Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas did not send the email. But she did join the players in revolt in posting the public statement that reiterated their position on Friday.
This month, Guijarro appeared at a news conference alongside the team’s first captain, Irene Paredes, and striker Jennifer Hermoso to explain their troubles with Vilda. Neither Paredes nor Hermoso are among the 15 who sent emails.
At that news conference, Paredes said the players were not happy with the results of the team that made it to the quarterfinals of the European Championship in July before losing to eventual champion England 2-1.
“It is a complicated moment,” Paredes said. “We are an ambitious team and we want to get better and win. We believe that various internal aspects (of the team) must improve.”
Guijarro then said “there is a generalized discontent among the team for what we went through at the end of the Eurocup. We thought that we had a group that could win titles. We think that and feel that way. After the Eurocup, the group sent that message to our coach.”
Vilda also spoke about the fracture among the team during the European Championship in England.
“The atmosphere on the team has always been good,” Vilda said. “In the first 15 days of the Europcup (camp) the atmosphere was positive. Then the games started and something changed. We were in a soccer paradise, and I hope that we can get back there in the future. We have a team of good players, and we are just one step away from being a great team.”
At that news conference, none of the players mentioned their emotional health. That has led to speculation in Spanish media that there may be something more behind the decision than just disappointing results.
Ana Álvarez, the head of women’s soccer at the Spanish soccer federation, defended the professionalism of Vilda.
While saying she does not question the claims of emotional distress of the players, Álvarez 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.
Quereda resigned after his players publicly demanded the federation get rid of him because of what they called his poor preparation for the 2015 Women's World Cup. Former players later accused him of using sexist and homophobic language to abuse them psychologically during his nearly three decades in charge.
“Nothing like that has ever occurred (under Vilda),” Álvarez told Cadena SER radio late Thursday. “All of us are professionals and there has never been anything to taint that. Nothing of what you could be thinking has happened. That would be very serious.”
The Spanish federation has said the players will not be allowed to return until they “ask for forgiveness.”
Spain is scheduled to host friendlies against Sweden on Oct. 7 and the United States on Oct. 11. Vilda is expected to announced his squad for those games next week.
The Women's World Cup is just around the corner, next July in Australia and New Zealand.
Álvarez said the federation will call up younger and less experienced players to complete its squad if needed.
“The federation comes first,” she said.