Mark OgdenSenior Writer, ESPN FC8 minutes of reading
SYDNEY — George Wilda will never forget the night he guided Spain won the Women’s World Cup for the first time. The Red The coach was cheered by the crowd as he held up the trophy and celebrated the win. Maybe not in the hearts and minds of his players, but when a coach wins an important tournament like the World Cup, they can point to the glittering trophy in response to every criticism or criticism.
Wilda’s methods, personality and approach to work may not be popular with many, but he has delivered a World Cup, arguably ultimate answer.
Since 15 of his players wrote to the Spanish Federation (RFEF) last October to raise concerns about Vilda’s management style and other behind-the-scenes issues, the 42-year-old has fended off questions about divisions in the squad and why. He chose to drop 12 of the so-called „Los 15” from his squad for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. When his team knocked out the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, only one substitute graced Vilda in the end. He was ignored by all the other players on the pitch.
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Lacking warmth after their semi-final victory over Sweden, the Spaniards celebrated their 1-0 win over England in the final in Sydney, which they did without Vilda. As they danced in celebration after he gave a shout-out post-match address, Wilda tried to join in, even though the players had their backs to him. It was a different story when Billie Jean King later joined the celebrations, and each player huddled together for a group photo with the tennis legend.
When last year’s Spanish revolt threatened to cost her her job, Vilda’s father, Angel, head of the federation’s women’s department, was given the unequivocal support of RFEF president Luis Rubiales. It created a rift within the team that has yet to heal, but it’s a fact that many teams and athletes around the world work for coaches they don’t particularly like, and Wilda is the latest in that long line.
Aitana Bonmatí, who set the tone and tempo while roaming Spain’s midfield in Sunday’s final, put victory firmly on the players. „Today, we went to the pitch to send the message: we’re here, we’ve grown as players, we’re not the same team we were years ago – we can compete, fight every ball and win, but we know how. We’re struggling, and I’m very happy for everyone.
„I think it’s very important to win this trophy because the young people can see that they can be footballers right now.”
Of course, while celebrations have begun in Sydney — Spain are reportedly scheduled to fly home early Monday morning regardless of whether they win or lose — it’s too early to know what the future holds for Vilda and the new world champions. This win will lead to a line being drawn on the past and a focus on the path forward now, but it will also prompt the whole situation to be overshadowed and break the restless strife of this rivalry. A tweet posted by the RFEF after the game, which said „wilda in”, was greeted by a series of replies saying „wilda out”.
Midfielder Teresa Abelleira refused to engage in conversation when asked about the coach after the match. „I won’t answer those things: I’m very happy. It seems a bit rude for you to ask this on such a beautiful day for Spanish football.”
Meanwhile, Vilda’s response was to focus on the end result, not the things that led them here. Speaking to reporters after the final, he said, „I always say that if all the suffering is necessary to become world champion, it will be worth it. „It has been difficult on a personal level in management, but on a sporting level, we have achieved results that we have never achieved before.
„I am very happy that we are world champions.”
As he celebrated Spain’s victory on the pitch with Queen Letizia, Rubiales will no doubt believe he was right to hold firm by supporting Vilda rather than the players. In this case a win is a win regardless of the cost.
Vilda has certainly played his part in Spain’s success. When his team needed Coach to make big calls, he made them — and got them right. He dealt with the difficult issue of 2021 and 2022 Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Butellas, dropping him from the squad when it became clear his fitness was not good enough since his return from a cruciate ligament injury in April. Guaranteed a starting spot. Going into the World Cup finals without him is the — perhaps the world’s — best player on the pitch, but it’s the right decision.
Similarly, 19-year-old winger Salma Parallulo was used as an attacking substitute in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, and on both occasions she scored crucial goals to secure victory.
Football teams can sometimes win despite having a manager better than them, and many of Spain’s best players have come together to win for themselves and their country rather than their coach. But Wilda still devised tactics, team selection and substitutions; Like it or not, he played his part. If Spain can win the World Cup, imagine what they can achieve if everything goes well and is universally loved or respected by their players.
Regardless of who is in charge, the players are motivated to keep winning. „Spain is here to stay,” Abelleira said. „If you support us, we can do great things. Women’s football in Spain can do great things.”
This is Spain’s first World Cup on the women’s side of their program, but Spain’s women have won recent editions of the Under-20 and U17 World Championships and their U19 team are European champions. Against England, as they did against Sweden and the Netherlands, Spain dominated possession and played with pace and width to win. They are a team with depth and quality, and the future is clearly bright.
Spain could dominate the remainder of this decade if their emerging players continue to improve, but the friction and tension around the senior squad does not look like a healthy situation going forward. But Spain won the World Cup, ripping up the rule book and defying convention to become world champions.
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