There’s no better proof of Spain’s lack of respect for women’s soccer than the continued employment of head coach Ignacio Quereda. Despite never qualifying for the Olympics, never qualifying for the World Cup prior to this one, and only even making it to the Euro Championship finals twice in 27 years as manager, he’s held his job without incident. The current players hope to change this.
After their heartbreaking exit from the World Cup by failing to make it out of the group stages despite looking dominant at basically every point in every match, the Spanish women released a public statement complaining about the many problems they believed contributed to their premature exit. From Mundo Deportivo:
First the players talk about criticism of their results in the World Cup, where after only getting one point they were eliminated in the group stage. “After completing our participation in the World Cup, it is time to take stock and draw conclusions. Both individually and as a group, the 23 players have critiqued ourselves and we know that our performance could have been better. This generation has the talent and commitment have gone much further,” said the statement.
That last bit, that this is a team with copious amounts of talent was evident during the their games. They played attractive, attacking, possession soccer, and carved up defenses at will before demonstrating an almost comic inability to go ahead and finish moves off with goals. For that, they have an interesting partial explanation:
Second, they point to the lack of preparation, focusing on the few friendlies the Spanish national team has played and the limited analysis of the World Cup opponents. “Despite this, and once we’ve taken our responsibility, we also want to make public the feeling of the group of 23. It is evident that the preparation for the World Cup has not been sufficient, from the nonexistent friendlies, the poor acclimatization to the area, the lack of analysis of opponents, and insufficient preparation for the matches ... and this has been the dynamic for a long time.”
This could be seen as a big reason for their finishing problems: they were simply rusty. With World Cup qualifying concluding most everywhere back in 2014, most of the tournament hopefuls scheduled an assortment of friendlies against fellow World Cup competition to get a feel of how they stack up against top competition. Brazil even set up a whole residency program for their players to practice and train together ahead of this tournament and next summer’s Olympics held in Rio.
Apparently, this wasn’t the case for Spain. Since their final WWC qualifier back in September of 2014, the Spain have only played five friendlies: two in February, two in March, and one more in April. Only two of those matches, both against New Zealand, were against World Cup teams. The USWNT, in contrast, played ten warm-up games just in 2015.
Next, the players set their sights on Quereda:
Then the players look to Ignacio Quereda and conclude that the relationship between both parties has run its course and that they believe his tenure should end at this stage. “We believe that a step has been finished and we need a change. Thus we have conveyed this to the coach and coaching staff. If confidence is lost and we cannot come together as a group, it is difficult to achieve our objectives.”
Quereda probably deserves some credit for how well Spain did look when playing, but maybe not as much as you’d think from the sound of things. Even if he somehow did luck into a great system for his players to thrive in after 27—27!—years of incompetence, his man-management skills apparently leave much to be desired—even apart from these mutinous players.
The coach’s Wikipedia entry describes a number of questionable decisions he’s made over the years, alienating a number of quality players, even leading one of Spain’s best goal scorers to declare that she’d never again play for the national team for as long as Quereda was in charge. These are the kinds of basic issues that would never be allowed to exist at the men’s level, especially not with such an undecorated manager.
But that leads us to the bigger point. None of these things are solely or even mainly Quereda’s fault. The RFEF—the body in charge of soccer in Spain—bears most of the responsibility for how the situation has devolved. Even the most likable coach shouldn’t keep his job after 27 years with only one major tournament qualification, not with a talent pool like Spain’s. The reason the country hasn’t been better at the sport despite their dominance in the men’s game is because of the lack of institutional investment for women’s soccer—the blame for which also lays at the RFEF’s feet.
Quereda might schedule the friendlies but if the RFEF allocated more money for them to fly to or fly in more testing opponents, if they sent the women to Canada earlier than just a couple days before the games started so they could better acclimate to the heat and the peculiarities of the turf pitches, if they hired more coaches who could focus their attention on scouting the other teams, Spain probably would’ve performed up to their potential. These are problems endemic to women’s soccer, but they’re especially egregious coming from a nation with a pedigree in the sport like Spain’s. It never should’ve gotten this far.
For their part, the players do sound genuinely hopeful about the future. Major tournaments galvanize fans back home, who become enamored with their players and the shirt they represent, and will demand improvements going forward. That’s the position of power the players must’ve realized they were in, hence the statement.
Finally, the internationals want to see the future with optimism, although they know that the road will be as hard or even more so than the path has been to date. “Much remains to be done and many doors still to open. This is a great moment for our sport, with many challenges and dreams ahead and it is everyone’s responsibility to lead the way forward. To see where we’re going and how we get there,” concludes the letter signed by the 23 internationals.
Spain’s fight for the 2015 World Cup may be over, but the quest for women’s soccer’s place in the world never ends.