Spain's Women's Team Is A Catastrophe, And It Doesn't Need To Be

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In the week since the players for the Spanish women’s national team released their open letter requesting the firing of manager Ignacio Quereda, more and more has come to light about just how officious and reprehensible his leadership has been over the entirety of his 27 years in charge.

Querada has referred to his players as “chavalitas” (a word basically meaning immature little girls) or “niñas” (little girls); called them fat when he wasn’t happy with their fitness levels; refused to call up even the best players available to him if they got on his bad side; shouted at players literally to the point of tears; micromanaged every aspect of their time with the national team, including forbidding them from saying anything controversial to the media about Spain’s infamous machismo or criticizing the turf fields in Canada; and basically proved himself unable to treat his players with the most basic human decencies. The fact that this man—who only got the job thanks to his friendship with Ángel María Villar, the then-new and still-reigning president of the Spanish soccer federation—has been so inept at his managerial and interpersonal duties and yet has still kept hold of his position despite numerous attempts by players over the years to request change shows that this problem is by no means relegated to a single individual.


Once the Spanish women returned home from Canada, players started doing the media rounds to further explain why exactly they decided to release the letter calling for Quereda’s job. An interview with Vicky Losada in Mundo Deportivo started out, “I know that after this interview, Nacho (Quereda) won’t call me up again. But it’s all the same to me. I no longer fear anything.”

Losada harped on Quereda’s famously hot temper. He often screams at players for any slight fault, putting players on guard at all times. The players are treated:

“‘[W]ith contempt’ by a manager who controls everything from the interviews the ladies are granted to the content of what they say (‘we are forbidden from mentioning the word machismo’) and even to the way they play. ... ‘[W]e are afraid to play as freely as we do with our clubs. He does not leave us alone. And if we fail, his anger is very volatile. This makes us play inhibited, like you are commanded by him. The situation is untenable.”


As for the timing, Losada explained that the decision to go public was to ensure that everyone— from the RFEF leaders themselves to the fans and media back home watching—would know what was happening and that they would not stand for it any longer. With the eyes of Spain on them, they could finally reveal what was really going on.

It’s not like Quereda was blindsided by all this. As Losada explains, the team captains had tried to speak with him before the World Cup started in an attempt to address their concerns before the inadequate preparation came back to bite them when the games started. Quereda was none too welcoming:

In fact, during the camp in Murcia, the three captains (Sonia, Ruth and Vero) met with Quereda in order to request more demanding warm-up training sessions. Requests that were made in a low voice for fear of retaliation. “He told us that even before there were girls who wanted to ‘take office’ and did not return to national team. Is this not a threat?”

After going into more specifics about how Quereda came up short as a manager, Losada returned to the messed up way he dealt with his players:

“We were treated worse than small girls, as ‘chavalitas’ and not as professional women. ... I, personally, am tired of all this. The ‘chavalitas’ are tired. We have been holding on so that the group would not be lost, for our dream of the World Cup, but enough. It is not about football, it’s about respect, about our rights.”


“I sincerely believe that he has completed his cycle, which must now give way to another generation, to more educated people.”


Vero Boquete during the Spain-Brazil WWC match. Photo by Getty.

Vero Boquete, Spain’s best player and captain, expounded further in an interview with El País. On the timing of the letter right as they’d been knocked out:

If we do it before the World Cup starts [the response] would be: “They are not focused on what they need to be.” If we had won, [our words] would have no weight because of course, if it all went well, how you could you complain? We are not talking about just this World Cup, we are talking about something that’s gone on for many years under the same conditions and there comes a time when enough is enough. We take our share of the blame because we have a sporting level to maintain, but there is another part that people do not see and that they should know is hampering us.


She mostly stays away from the more personal slights her and her compatriots have endured, and does admit that after the training camp meeting in Murcia that Losada referenced above, Quereda was a little kinder to the team, but lays out some of the sporting problems the team noticed:

Q. How are training sessions?

A. The deal is not correct. It’s like having a boss who despises you. What you do is never right, it is always your fault. We cannot appeal to the media because he has control of everything, because he organizes not only the sporting things but everything has to be under his control. We have no say, no weight. He treats us as if we were little girls and we have no freedom. And also how he addresses us: “chavalita.”

Q. Is his methodology antiquated?

A. Yes. There is no progress and it is very unprofessional. Some things can not happen: training is undemanding, repetitive and not very functional, he takes phone calls in the middle of training sessions, he gives instructions to only the 11 starters and treats the rest as if they were not on the team; it is disrespectful. His instructions are nonsense and screams ... An archaic structure, as if it were Spain 30 years ago.


The more interviews they all gave, the more the universal you realized their experiences were. The training was worse than what they got at their respective clubs, many in a Spanish league that isn’t even professional. There was very little opposition-specific preparation. (As defender Leire Landa explained, the players were so hungry for additional information about opponents that they took it upon themselves to look up, share, and analyze Youtube videos of the teams they were to face.) Quereda had no ideas about tactics or playing styles and only resorted to yelling at players for mistakes rather than offering constructive criticism. (And as forward Natalia Pablos pointed out, the issue wasn’t the shouting itself: “There has been talk about yelling, about his methods. I have had many coaches throughout my career and of course they yell, but when a there is no correction behind the shouting it is useless.”)


Ignacio Quereda on the bench during the Spain-Brazil WWC match. Photo by Getty.

The most troubling information, though, involves how Quereda dealt with dissent. As Losada and Boquete both hinted at in their interviews, the team was wary when broaching these issues. As Natalia Pablos said about talking to the manager about their concerns, “It was like running into a wall. And if we run into a wall, we have no other choice than to try to jump the wall.”


These concerns about angering Quereda before the tournament began were especially concerning because they knew how vindictive he is. They had every reason to fear that that, if Quereda took the players’ suggested improvements too personally, any player could be ousted from the World Cup roster. After all, he’d done it before. Sonia Bermúdez put it well:

I’ve been in the national team for some time. I started when I was 16 and now I’m 30 and during that time I’ve seen a lot of things, players who have argued with him and were never called up again… but after so many years, at last, we’re united and that has given us strength. We’re not going to give up on this.


Eventually, former players under Quereda came forward to confirm that the treatment the current Spain internationals faced wasn’t new. Someone dug up an old Fox Sports article from 2011, which lamented Spain’s absence at that World Cup and laid the blame on Quereda. It included an anecdote from Laura del Rio, one of the most talented players of her generation. This is what she had to say about the national team’s situation:

NE: Let’s talk a bit about the Spaniard Women’s National Team. You started in 39 caps and scored 40 goals while with them. What happened during that time?

Del Rio: Yes, that’s correct. Being part of the team was a dream come true. Unfortunately things didn’t work out with Ignacio Quereda, the manager of the team. He’s been with the team for over 28 years. We don’t see eye to eye on many things. I’m not the only one who is no longer part of the team due to this. There are many.

NE: Is there any way that you would go back?

Del Rio: Yes, for Quereda to leave the team.

Another former player, the 46-year-old, 65-time-capped Mar Prieto, also shed light on how much of an authoritarian asshole Quereda has always been. Here are some quotes from an interview with AS:

What about that black legend that whoever says something the coach, Quereda, doesn’t like, she never comes back?

There is the example of Laura del Rio, like other players who have disappeared from the national team. In my time it occurred also, with girls who the coach had conflict with because they said what they thought. There was also a formal complaint lodged by everyone and gradually he began to disappear people.

What inspired this complaint?

Some things had gone very wrong because [the players] were more concerned that the manager not scream at them, that he not tell them they were fat ... it depended on how you approached him.

It bothered them that he told them they were fat?

You see, there were players who were a bit overweight, but there are many ways to say it. These things have to be said with some delicacy.


The formal complaint Prieto references was an until then unknown attempt by the players to inform the RFEF of Quereda’s behavior and that the women wanted a change. What happened with it was very strange:

We signed a complaint and delivered it to was the president of the women’s game, Teresa Andreu. I figured she would deliver to the Villar or whoever, but we never heard back. What happened is that Teresa then resigned. Make your own conclusions.


María Teresa Andreu is one of the founders of women’s soccer in Spain. She played herself as a goalkeeper for Barcelona in the ’ 70s in a league unsanctioned by the Spanish federation, and was one of the leading voices of her time in the quest to form an official Spanish women’s national team. After about a decade of opposition, finally in 1980 the president of the RFEF created a subcommittee to investigate the topic of women’s soccer in Spain. Andreu was at the head of the committee. A year later, the group was able to establish a national tournament called the Copa Reina. By 1983, Spain finally played their first RFEF-sanctioned international match. Andreu stayed on as the president of the women’s team.

You can see, then, just how fraught the situation must have been for Andreu to abandon the team she poured so much energy into apparently because of Quereda. There hadn’t been much coverage of Andreu’s role in all of this, until yesterday, when she sat for an interview with Marca. The headline makes clear her point of view: “The cancer of women’s soccer is Quereda.”


She starts out by explaining her history with Quereda, and how a good working relationship turned bad:

Q. One of your first decisions was to appoint Ignacio Quereda as manager of the women’s team.

A. I did not like Teodoro Nieto [the team’s first manager] and asked for a change. They wanted a coach from Madrid and the Coaches Committee presented us with three options. I was the one who chose and I appointed Ignacio Quereda. At first it was good because I was so involved, but eventually that changed radically.

Q. How so?

A. He eventually wanted control over everything. He is a person that will not accept a single piece of criticism and we collided often. I and many others. If we made ​​a list of all the players who have gone through the national team none would speak well of him. Even within the federation there are many people who have asked to change departments so as not to travel with him. The situation became so untenable that I had to tell him to stop attending meetings.

Q. There are players who have publicly denounced insults and bad behavior.

A. That I have lived firsthand. It is not something new. I have seen the mistreatment of players, how he screamed at them, how he ridiculed them, how he got on them about their weight ... I suffered a lot with them. I tried to check him on two occasions without success. If Villar had listened to me before we would not have reached this situation. The cancer of women’s football is named Ignacio Quereda.


Next, she gets directly at the incident Prieto referenced, and about the team’s official complaint back in ’98:

Q. You were there for the international mutiny in 1998.

A. It was very similar to the current situation. The players drafted a letter and handed to him. I took charge of the situation and went to talk to Villar. He said he did not want any change, that the players could say Mass but he remained confident Quereda. Villar has always run away from the problems and wants people faithful to his side.


“The players could say Mass.” The president of the Spanish soccer federation, upon being handed a letter outlining the behavior of the manager of the women’s team, detailing how he shouts at them and ridicules them because of their weight, responded by basically saying “they should pray on it because nothing will change.” And you wonder how it gets to this.

The deeper you dig into the situation, the bleaker and more systemic you realize the problem to be. Quereda has already responded to say that he will not resign voluntarily, but then again—and despite the players’ protestations to the contrary—no one believes this is all relegated to just one man. The current head of the women’s sector of the federation, Vicente Temprado, has largely brushed aside their concerns as “inappropriate and unnecessary”:

“What is the problem? That they didn’t score one more goal? If they score that, they’d still be playing, if they would have gotten a goal against Korea, we would have reached the next round and none of this would have come up. I do not blame Vero Boquete who failed to rise to the occasion, or Natalia Pablos who failed to score three times in five minutes against Korea. On the contrary, I have helped and encouraged them in the worst of moments. Similarly, they’re right and it’s time for a change, but this was not the time or way to go about it. They are forgetting that if they are there it is thanks to the selfless work we have put in for so many years. They just want a manager, a chief of [the women’s sector of the RFEF], ... to all be women.”


And, believe it or not, that backwards mentality by those in charge of women’s soccer in Spain clouds their judgment in other ways, too. Just a couple days ago, the RFEF was sued by Seyer Gestión, a sports marketing agency the federation had contracted with in relation to the women’s game.

The Spanish federation hired the firm in 2009 with the purpose of finding new ways to monetize and popularize women’s soccer. Seyer came up with various business plans and proposals over the years, the biggest one in 2013, when they brought the RFEF an offer of €6.6 million for six years by a company called CGP Sport, who would televise or live-stream every game, find field and kit sponsors, create a website and social media platforms, and perform many other services for the top Spanish women’s league.


The suit itself alleges that the first real meeting about the offer took place between Seyer representatives, the RFEF’s secretary general, and Quereda. There, what the suit describes as “two startling events” took place. The first was that the representatives for Seyer were informed that the RFEF would have to consult with “María José Claramunt” before anything could be finalized.

This was a bit of a shock to Seyer, since they had never before in their four years of working for the RFEF interacted with or even heard of “María José Claramunt.” At a later meeting, someone with Seyer asked Temprado about Claramunt and he responded with surprise, “who is that?” The second curious event was when Quereda instructed Seyer that in regards to the offer itself, and they quote, “under no circumstances should the clubs or players learn about this.”


What happened next shed a little more light on why the RFEF started acting weird at that meeting. After that day, Seyer again sent the offer the secretary general of women’s soccer, as well as Quereda and Temprado, and later on even to Villar himself. For some strange reason, none of these men ever gave a definitive yes or no to the measure. Seyer repeatedly sent written and verbal requests for an answer over a matter of months, but never got a response. Finally, the deadline for acceptance passed and the deal was canceled.

It’s because of that aborted deal that Seyer has now sued, alleging a breach of contract for not allowing the firm to perform the very duties they were hired to complete and (one assumes) any fees they would have made on that broadcasting deal.


Ángel María Villar with Iker Casillas and Vicente Del Bosque in 2014. Photo by Getty.


So why would the RFEF flat out ignore an offer that would’ve earned them money as well as popularizing women’s soccer? Because, as Martí Perarnau explained in Marca recently, for Villar women’s soccer is “just a nuisance,” a “hindrance” upon the federation that he treats with “condescension, disinterest, and paternalism.”

Doing anything to help women’s soccer in Spain would involve just that: doing something. Villar has absolutely no interest in that side of the game, and thus prefers to spend as little time as possible on it. Hence the complaints of players, coaches, and RFEF personnel, including Teresa Andreu, falling on deaf ears. Apparently the only recourse for those people expecting him to do anything is to “say Mass.”


As Perarnau lays out, the RFEF does as little as possible to further the women’s game. The lack of a professional league is not the fundamental issue with the game in Perarnau’s mind, since other Spanish women’s national teams in sports like water polo, basketball, and handball have managed to flourish without professionalizing. The problem is that RFEF does nothing to prioritize the cultivation of women’s soccer players. The federation is not the employer of the best coaches in the women’s game, who could preside over a cadre of promising players and nurse them from youngsters to adult world-beaters at a national facility specializing on this. (Though it should be said that everything I’ve read says the coaches at Spain’s U19 and below levels are great and should be credited with the emergence of this current golden generation.)

Instead, Villar is content with his buddy Quereda bossing over his charges for nearly three decades without producing anything in the way of national team success. And when Quereda does bungle his way into a winner—almost a statistical certainty considering the timespan we’re dealing with here—Villar still does nothing to support it. He didn’t attend the deciding home match against Scotland that would make or break their progression to the 2013 Euros, and no one knows if anyone from the federation was present in Canada.


To really drive home just how little Spain cares about women’s soccer, Manuel Galan dug into the RFEF’s financials. What he found wasn’t pretty.

For the budget as set in 2014, the RFEF had €126,235,000 to spend on soccer. Of that, €1,200,000 was spent on women. That’s just 0.95 percent of the federation’s annual budget spent on women’s soccer. Even those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Only about €800,000 of the €1.2 million came out of the RFEF’s own coffers. The rest came from FIFA, which mandates that federations spend at least 15 percent of the money FIFA gives them on the women’s game; the rest comes from UEFA.


On top of that, the RFEF leaves even more money on the table in the form of state subsidies Spain has promised for entities that support women’s sports. Because the RFEF does not meet the requirement that 33 percent of the board be composed of women, they do not qualify for these subsidies.

In contrast, Galan compared how much Spain spent on women’s soccer to how much other countries did. England spends about €15 million, France about €10.5 million, Germany €7 million—even tiny little Belarus, with €1.3 million, outspends Spain. And that doesn’t even take into account the number of licensed female players in the country, which Spain has over 40 times as many as Belarus.


That’s not the only way Spain skimps on its female players. The club that won the women’s league this past season was paid €1,352.27 while the runner up earned €901.52, the same winnings as the champion and runner up of the 2002-03 edition. Since the ’90s, the women’s team’s per diem for every day spent with the national team has been set at €27 a day. This was only changed this year, when they increased it to €40. Spain’s international women basketball players receive a per diem of €300.

It’s important to remember that underneath the open letters and the controversy and the financial figures are real people, women who want nothing more than to represent their country and maximize their potential in the game they love, without this parade of indignities.


The most affecting of those stories to emerge has been an essay by Sandra Vilanova, one of Spain’s leaders during the recent era which culminated in the team’s second-ever Euro Championship in 2013. A staple in the side for a decade, she eventually served as captain during her run.


Sandra Vilanova, challenging for a ball back in 2010 during a World Cup qualifier against England. Photo by Getty.

Vilanova begins her story at the very beginning, with her first international call-up back in 97. It was a month-long training camp in Car de Sant Cugat between May and July. She was in high school at the time and so excited about the prospects of playing for her country that she skipped out on a number of tests to join the team and thus had to repeat those courses when she got back.


That camp back in ’97 wasn’t only special for being her first with the team. At that camp, she witnessed some players thrown out for voicing their displeasure with the manager, or maybe they left on their own accord after realizing their complaints were not being heard. (She says she can’t remember which.) “Imagine,” she says, “being a newcomer, not knowing anyone, and suddenly an incredible mess.”

Still, while she saw firsthand some of the unpleasantries that would plague her entire international career, she also realized just why so many players put up with it all:

You know what happens? You’re so excited, it’s the apex of women’s soccer, to compete at that level, one you’ve not experienced in the Spanish league. These matches, in stadiums, with natural grass, the whole protocol, such professionalism, and to push yourself to the max, because in those games you can really get everything, pure competition. You lose that ... fear.

As much as football has improved in Spain, an international match is another level, and what a level!


She goes on to explain that she and her fellow players had multiple meetings over the years where they’d discuss Quereda’s behavior:

A few players, great ones, I have seen with tears in their eyes during workouts. For [Quereda’s] coaching, out-of-place comments, having little tact.

I include myself.

I have seen friends in camps leave, because they were not willing to take it anymore. Call their parents and go home, goodbye national team.


As for why the turmoil has only boiled over now, she has an answer: “How is it possible that we haven’t done this before? To whom would we make our case? This is women’s soccer, and 27 years, they weigh. It’s not fair.”

She then moves on to the most frustrating part of her international career, that 2013 Euro Championship that should’ve been her happiest moment. She says that “sometimes I feel that they stole ‘my’ Eurocopa from me.” She entered that tournament as team captain, and at 32 years old, she knew she was nearing the end of her career. Still, she was determined to enjoy the moment, a last reward of a huge international tournament after a decade of service to a horrible manager. In the back of her mind, she hoped that if she impressed at the Euros and if they secured the right results going forward, she just might make it on the World Cup roster in Canada.


Instead, she was barely used at the Euros. Vilanova only appeared in one of the four games. She says that the one thing all aging athletes know to watch for is the decline in their skills. Once an athlete knows she is no longer able to perform at the level required of her, she must step away from the game. Vilanova did not feel like she had lost her ability, so she confronted the manager about her lack of playing time:

This is the explanation they give you, “We are in a transition period, the young players need honing.”

EXCUSE ME???? A transition period at the Euros? Are we crazy or what? To this day I still do not understand. You have to give way to the youth, yes, but do it during the qualification stage, that would be more consistent. Blessed consistency.

After the Euros I hung up my boots.

She goes on to explain how she now feels that Quereda has stolen the World Cup from this generation of players, and that that is unacceptable:

With what it takes to get there, all that we give up, more out of passion than anything else, with the efforts they make, that we make, that I made, that each and every international has made. It can’t be that they prepare for a World this way, that they play with our work, with our lives.


She closes with remarks about what she knows this statement will mean for her future standing with the national team and the Spanish federation:

I know that this reflection will close doors for me, I would have loved to have had the opportunity to manage the national team one day, when I was more prepared, more experienced. As you pursue a UEFA PRO LICENCE [a licence any potential manager must acquire before coaching top-level teams in Europe] you must aspire to the maximum, just like I did as a player and as I intended to as a coach. To train the best players in Spain, a sport that you know well because you have lived it, suffered for it. That which you will defend forever. A sport more for us than from them.

But I prefer to support these 23 brave women who look elsewhere for personal gain. I am not like that, nor will I ever be.


“A sport more for us than for them.” That’s about the clearest distillation of what’s at stake here as you could come up with, not just for the current Spanish players against Quereda and the RFEF, but for every future player in Spain and beyond. The fight for dignity of those 23 Spanish players is a fight for the dignity of the whole sport.

Top photo by Getty