Spain v Sweden: Las 15+3, An International Team In Chaos And Lonely Jorge Vilda

Spain face Sweden in the World Cup semi-final
16:00, 14 Aug 2023

Before the Women's World Cup, there was serious concern about Spain’s chances given the unrest going on behind the scenes. Now they are just two wins away from World Cup glory as they head into a tasty semi-final with Sweden, but that doesn’t mean all is well in camp. 

In September 2022, 15 players wrote letters to the Spanish Football Federation withdrawing from selection for the national side. The complaints were focused on a lack of professionalism from the team’s technical staff and the RFEF, and they wanted head coach Jorge Vilda to be removed.

“I currently do not see myself in a position to be a player eligible for selection for our national team and for this reason I request not to be called up until the situation is reversed.”

They were supported by a further three players who did not write letters but publicly gave their support to the cause. They were branded Las 15+3 by the Spanish media and, of the 18 players who protested, only Alexia Putellas, Irene Paredes, Jennifer Hermoso, Aitana Bonmati, Mariona Caldentey and Ona Batlle have made Spain’s final squad for this year’s World Cup. 

It made for some feisty El Clasico affairs given that no Real Madrid players took part in the protest, and it looked for some time as though this World Cup would simply be written off. However, the situation softened in March as discussions began and a compromise was reached. Hermoso was the first to return and that paved the way for some others to come back into the squad. 

Better plans were made for their trip to New Zealand, more plane travel promised rather than coaches, and more technical staff were added to the team. It was a step forward, but not enough for some. Guijarro, Leon and Pina all refused to return while the likes of Panos were not called up despite making themselves available for selection again. 

Spain face Sweden in the semi-final
Spain face Sweden in the semi-final

The distaste towards the head coach is plain to see. He was not applauded onto the stage by half of the players when the squad was announced on TV and after the quarter-final win over the Netherlands he was blatantly ignored by all of his squad as he tried to celebrate on the pitch. It’s a divided camp, but on the pitch they’ve become a functional unit. 

We’ve seen this before at men’s and women’s football World Cups. Nigeria this year had been hamstrung for months by disagreements. Players sought unpaid bonuses, there were training boycotts and in-fighting between staff. When most would have expected that chaos to leak onto the pitch, they battled on, beating the hosts Australia and narrowly losing to England on penalties. Sometimes from chaos comes a fighting spirit. 

But it isn’t always the case. 

Manchester United’s new number one Andre Onana left the 2022 men's World Cup and retired from international football after an argument with head coach Rigobert Song. They subsequently went out in the group stage. 

And who can forget France’s implosion in 2010? They’d come within a penalty shootout of winning the entire thing in 2006 but four years later they fell apart. Raymond Domenech was set to leave his job as head coach, Nicolas Anelka went on a mad rant that saw him get sent home, Patrice Evra had a heated argument with a fitness coach and the players refused to train. It ended with an embarrassing group-stage exit. 

Spain have already surpassed those chaotic teams at this World Cup. They have what it takes to go all the way and, with less than a week of the tournament left, can put all their disagreements behind them to focus on the task at hand. If they do make it to their first World Cup final, keep an eye on the celebrations, and Jorge Vilda. He might look a little lonely yet again. 

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