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The 2015 letter that put Spain on course to the 2023 World Cup final
In 2014, the Spanish federation spent less than one percent of its budget on women's football.
Hi, friends. Today we’ve got a special Saturday edition of Power Plays. It’ll be very short, I promise.
As we covered at the start of the tournament, both World Cup finalists, Spain and England, are currently in disputes with their federations. The English women are fighting with their governing body, the Football Association (FA), because the FA has refused to agree to give them bigger World Cup bonuses than the paltry amount FIFA has earmarked for players. And Spain, well, I’ll link you to a great explainer by our friend Pardeep Cattry, but to oversimplifying things: Spain is playing without some of its top players because of concerns about head coach Jorge Vilda’s behavior and subpar conditions in the program in general.
Ahead of the World Cup final, I wanted to take a moment and revisit some of the other barriers that the finalists, Spain and England, have overcome. On Thursday we looked back at England’s Football Association’s 50-year ban on girls and women playing football on FA grounds.
For Spain, I want to focus in on some much more recent history. Because Spain’s road to this final began less than a decade ago at the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Believe it or not, that was the first World Cup the Spanish women ever qualified for, an absolutely staggering fact given how rich and prominent its men program has been for about a century.
Spain did not fare well in the 2015 tournament. In fact, they finished in last place in their group. But what they did off of the field in Canada was far more significant than any one game could ever be.
All 23 players used the spotlight that was on them at their first World Cup and decided to seize it to make things better. They wrote an open letter asking for the firing of their manager, Ignacio Quereda, who was allowed to oversee the team for 27 years despite only winning 38% of the matches under his direction. No coach should ever be at the helm of a national team for 27 years, let alone one only winning 38% of his games. Thirty-eight percent!
He also emotionally abused the players, insulted them for their weight, called them “chavalitas,” which means “immature little girls.” As the 38% statistic might indicate, he did so little coaching that the players had to take game preparation into their own hands by scouting their opponents on YouTube. (Deadspin had a good breakdown of the complaints against Quereda.)
The Spanish federation was essentially asleep at the wheel when it came to women’s football — in 2014, it spent less than one percent of its entire budget on the women’s game. Less than one percent!!
Here is the letter the 23 players signed after their 2015 Women’s World Cup group-stages exit in Canada, via our friends at Equalizer Soccer:
Following our elimination from the World Cup, we feel it is the right moment to evaluate our own participation in the event and draw conclusions. Both individually and collectively, the 23 players who form part of Spain’s Women’s team have made a self-critical assessment of our performance and we recognize that it could have been much better. This generation of players has the talent and commitment to have gone further in Canada.
In spite of that, and while assuming our own responsibility for our early exit, we would also like to publicly air the general feeling of the group, of all 23 of us. It is evident that the preparation for these World Cup finals was not adequate, there were insufficient pre-tournament friendlies, we were given limited time to acclimatize on arrival in Canada and the analysis of our opponents and the way the team prepared for our matches was simply not good enough – and that has been the case for a long time now. We believe that we have reached the end of an era and change is required. We have expressed these feelings to the coach and his technical team. Once confidence is lost and the ability to connect and transmit ideas to the squad is gone, it is very difficult for objectives to be reached.
We still have a long road to go down and many doors will open along the way. This is a great moment for our sport – with many challenges and dreams lying ahead, which is why we feel that it is our joint responsibility to set the path we know we have to take. We will see where we get to and how we get on.
The letter made enough waves that the Spanish federation FINALLY fired Quereda and started putting more resources into women’s football, forever changing the trajectory of the program. Unfortunately, they hired Jorge Vilda, because progress is neither linear nor simple.
Last fall, 15 players on the Spanish national team signed a letter expressing frustration with Vilda’s coaching style and the professionalism of the program. They said they would not rejoin the team until things improved. The Spanish federation vehemently supported Vilda and his staff, and despite the success on the field, it is clear there is still tension — players have been notably excluding coaches, including Vilda, from celebrations during and after games.
There are four players on this 2023 roster who were also part of that 2015 team — Jennifer Hermoso, Ivana Andrés, Irene Paredes, Alexia Putellas. None of them were among the 15 original signees of the letter calling for change within the federation in 2022, though Hermoso, Paredas, and Putellas all expressed support on social media for the players who sent the letter. There are two players who were part of the 2015 team who signed the 2022 letter and didn’t make this World Cup squad — Sandra Panos and Lola Gallardo. Panos made herself available for selection, but Vilda still did not name her to the team. I am unsure if Gallardo made herself available for selection, or if she was one of the seven players who continued their boycott through the World Cup.
It’s absolutely staggering to think of what these players have been through in their last decade on the national team, and devastating to know that they are still having to fight against a stubborn federation and inappropriate coaching.
But they should take pride in knowing that the fight is not in vain. There is absolutely no way that Spain would be in a World Cup final this year without the bravery shown by the 2015 team. And hopefully, the women speaking out against Vilda and his staff will have a similar legacy going forward. No matter what happens on the field on Sunday, the future of the women’s national team is bright, thanks solely to the players.
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