The difference between how England and Spain’s players feel about their respective managers is best summed up by their post-match celebrations.
After knockout victories at tournaments, it has become customary for England captain Millie Bright to embrace boss Sarina Wiegman with a bear hug before lifting her into the air.
Bright went to do this after the semi-final but Wiegman motioned that Australia’s goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold was behind her, so the defender waited patiently for her manager to shake her opponents’ hand before ensuring their traditional celebration was completed.
For Spain boss Jorge Vilda, there is no such routine, no such love or appreciation shown from his players.
After Spain’s extra-time victory over the Netherlands at the quarter-final stage, Vilda ran on to the pitch. His players ignored him. A clip of Vilda clenching his fists, celebrating with himself while his players kept their distance went viral.
There have been deep divisions between Spain coach Jorge Vilda and his players during the Women’s World Cup – but the team has still made it through to the final with England
It stands in stark contrast to the affection England’s players have for coach Sarina Wiegman
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The divisions in this Spain squad are deep-rooted and pre-date this tournament.
After defeat by England in the Euro 2022 quarter-final, players set-up a video call with Luis Rubiales, the president of the Spanish Federation (RFEF) in August.
They had been unhappy with their preparation for the Euros and Vilda’s tactics during the tournament. They believed his training methods were inefficient and his in-game management non-existent.
Spain are said to have done little if any video preparation on England before facing them last summer.
There were also complaints around Vilda’s conduct. It is alleged he created a controlling environment, with Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo reporting he forced players to keep the doors of their rooms open until midnight to check for himself that they were there before going to sleep.
Vilda was allegedly in charge of closing the door and making sure the lights were turned off. These practices were abandoned after the 2019 World Cup following complaints from players but there are still heavy restrictions on their freedoms while in camp.
Vilda’s control is said to be excessive to the point he will check their bags when they return from a shopping trip while players also have to say who they are meeting if they want to leave camp, with all movement subject to strict surveillance.
Discussions with the RFEF were led by captain Irene Paredes, Patri Guijarro and Jenni Hermoso, but Rubiales refused to sack Vilda.
Vilda was ignored by his players as he celebrated their quarter-final win over the Netherlands
A number of the Spanish players complained over Vilda’s overbearing methods
The ‘rebellion’ made front page headlines in Spain during the lead-up to the WorldCup
When news of the meeting was leaked, the manager responded publicly – stating he was ‘hurt’ by the way players behaved and that ‘what happens in the dressing room, stays in the dressing room.’ But a month later, a mass mutiny erupted.
Fifteen players sent emails to the RFEF saying they would not be available for selection because conditions in the national team set-up were affecting their health and emotional well-being.
Paredes and Hermoso did not send emails due to their heavy involvement in the previous protest but supported the players, who became known as ‘Las 15’.
Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas was injured at the time but also issued support publicly.
The 15 players were made up from Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Manchester United, Manchester City, Real Sociedad and Club America.
Spain have booked their place in the Women’s World Cup final after a 2-1 win over Sweden
Vilda (middle) gave a team talk after the Sweden win before being pushed out of celebrations
No Real Madrid player was part of the email that was sent, which is understood to in part be down to the pressure the club placed on their stars not to get involved.
The RFEF issued a strongly-worded statement in response, saying the ‘rebels’ had made a ‘very serious infraction’ by refusing to play for the country and demanded apologies from all involved.
Vilda’s position is strengthened by the fact his father, Angel, works in the women’s football department of the RFEF and has a close relationship with Rubiales.
With the RFEF refusing to back down, 12 of the 15 players who went on strike wrote letters of apology.
Only three – Ona Batlle, Aitana Bonmati and Mariona Caldentey were picked in Vilda’s World Cup squad. Three key players Guijarro, Mapi Leon and Claudio Pina refused to apologise.
‘It will really p*** me off not to go to the World Cup, but my values come first,’ Leon said in a statement.
‘It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, but my decision is clear. Mapi León has a way of life and values. I can’t go back if the situation doesn’t change.’
Players wrote to Spanish FA president, Luis Rubiales, but the football chief failed to agree
Barcelona’s Mapi Leon is one of the few who did not make themselves available for selection
The players who mutinied that were not picked by Vilda and the ones who stayed away are now back in pre-season training with their clubs. They have been quiet on social media and have not acknowledged the success of their team-mates.
That Spain have reached a World Cup final following a year of such turbulence is remarkable.
There is a feeling that players are playing in spite of their manager, not because of him. If they were at full strength, they would be the overwhelming favourites to win Sunday’s final.
The squad in Australia may have put their differences aside but their feelings remain clear.
At a farewell party in Madrid, the squad were lined up on stage when Vilda was introduced. Nearly half the team did not clap as he walked out while Putellas placed her hands behind her back.
Spain’s Alexia Putellas painted a frustrated figure after she was subbed off against Sweden
After Vilda was ignored in the celebrations following the quarter-final victory, he was slightly more involved after the semi-final win against Sweden.
The post-match huddle where Vilda gave a passionate speech looked stage-managed but he was soon pushed to the outside when players began jumping up and down.
England would not be in this World Cup final without Wiegman, their well-liked and respected manager. The feeling in Spain is that their success has little or nothing to do with theirs.
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