Spain 1, Lesbianesses 0

Spain won the Women’s World Cup despite its Football Association needing to crush a player revolt by 15 of its top female players by ejecting 12 of them from the national team.

Spain won their first Women’s World Cup final vs. England on Sunday 1-0 but did it without a handful of top players because of an ongoing protest against the Royal Spanish Football Federation.

In September 2022, 15 players sent the federation separate but identical emails asking not to be called up to the national team, citing a lack of professionalism that each player wrote had an “important effect on my emotional state and by extension my health.” They demanded “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” in the email.

The 15 players were Aitana Bonmati, Mariona Caldentey, Ona Batlle, Patri Guijarro, Mapi Leon, Sandra Panos, Claudia Pina, Lola Gallardo, Ainhoa Moraza, Nerea Eizagirre, Amaiur Sarriegi, Lucia Garcia, Leila Ouahabi, Laia Aleixandri and Andrea Pereira. Three additional players who did not send emails voiced their support for the others: Alexia Putellas, Jennifer Hermoso, and captain Irene Paredes.

According to The Athletic, among the players’ complaints was insufficient preparation for matches, from arriving to host cities too late and traveling by bus when planes would be considered the practical choice. The players also reportedly had issues with several coaches, alleging they were asked them to keep their hotel room doors open until midnight and inspected their bags after they went on excursions during camps. The players never explicitly asked for head coach Jorge Vilda or his coaching staff to be fired, but it was clear the relationship between them was fractured.

Instead of taking the players’ complaints seriously, though, the federation instantly backed Vilda and criticized those who protested. Ana Alvarez, head of women’s soccer at the federation, said that players would need to apologize before they were welcomed back onto the team, and added that “the federation comes first.”

It’s interesting to see how the players revolt – so celebrated in the early stages of the tournament when the team lost 4-0 to Japan in the last round of qualifiers – is being minimized here now that Spain, under the much-vilified Vilda, has won the tournament. Leaving 12 internationals out of the national team in a sport that starts 11 is hardly “a handful”. The media made a lot out of the current players turning their backs on their coach and refusing to celebrate a quarterfinal victory with him, but the observable fact is that there is no way the Spanish team, which had never even reached the quarterfinals before, would have won the World Cup without him.

Female teams are particularly fragile and are much given to self-destructive drama. I doubt it is an accident that Vilda didn’t select 12 of the 15 who initially declared themselves unavailable, as they were troublemakers and drama queens. And it was impressive that he didn’t hesitate to sit down the #1 goalkeeper when she wasn’t playing well, and that he left his star player, arguably the best in the world, on the bench for most of the tournament because she wasn’t 100-percent recovered from injury. Whether they like him or not, his players went on to dominate an English team full of the very sort of troublemakers and drama queens that he ejected from the squad.

A lot of NFL players don’t like Bill Belichick either. But there is no denying he gets the most out of them. Or that he wins championships.

It’s a bit amusing to see some of the bigger names who were left out whining about how they didn’t get the chance to win a World Cup. “What saddens me the most is that I really have to miss out on something when I could have earned it and contributed. It’s a shame.” But it’s not a shame, you didn’t earn it, you didn’t have to miss out, and your contributions were obviously unnecessary.

The lesson of the unexpected Spanish triumph at the Woman’s World Cup is this: the players are never bigger than the team.