It should have been a glamour game between the two teams ranked as number one and two in the world but Friday’s UEFA Nations League match between Sweden and Spain is now about who will take the field for the world champions.
A week after 39 of the leading Spanish women’s players made it clear that they no longer wanted to be considered for selection to the women’s national team until a specific set of changes had been made within their federation, 21 of those players were included today in the first squad selected by new national team head coach Monste Tomé.
On whether the disaffected players will travel to Gothenburg this week for a match against Sweden, the team they defeated to reach the Women’s World Cup final just last month, Tomé said “I trust the players are professionals, they come from being world champions, they love their profession, being here is a privilege and I know they will be there.
After the dismissal of World Cup winning coach Jorge Vilda and the eventual resignation of Spanish federation (RFEF) President Luis Rubiales, the appointment of Vilda’s assistant Montse Tomé, the first-ever female head coach of the women’s national team was seen by the RFEF as a step in the right direction after years of unhappiness among the players with the national team coaching setup.
Tomé was due to be officially presented to the media and announce her first squad on Friday afternoon. However this event was cancelled at 20 minutes notice by the RFEF and delayed until an unspecified date.
UEFA regulations for their new Nations League tournament in which Spain has been drawn against Sweden, Switzerland and Italy, insist that a squad of 23 players is submitted to them by midnight on the day before the game. The Nations League will also be used as a qualifying tournament for the 2024 Olympic Games, a competition which Spain has never played in.
Therefore, after a weekend of claim and counter-claim – it has been reported in El Español that members of the federation are thinking of suing the players for “coercion and slander” – at short notice this afternoon, the RFEF once more said the new coach would announce her first squad today.
To the surprise of many, as well as fifteen of the world championship winning squad, Tomé also recalled FC Barcelona players, Mapi León and Patri Guijarro, who refused to back down from the players’ initial strike back in September and therefore missed out on playing in a winning World Cup side this summer. Also recalled are Manchester City’s Laia Aleixandri and Manchester United’s Lucía García, who were both left out of Jorge Vilda’s World Cup squad.
The player at the center of the storm, Jenni Hermoso – the woman kissed without consent by Rubiales on the World Cup winner’s podium – was not called up by Tomé. The new coach said her non-selection was “the best way to protect her” but the player remained part of her plans adding “we are with Jenni in everything and with all the players.”
At her official presentation at the federation’s training center at Las Rozas outside Madrid, Tomé, a former Spanish international, was keen to distance herself from the previous coaching regime in which she was a key figure. “It is true that I have worked five years for Jorge Vilda, but I am not Jorge Vilda. I am Monste Tomé.”
She also denied being one of those identified by the players as someone who they wanted to be replaced saying “this news has not reached me.” She did admit that “I have spoken with the players and I am not going to reveal what I have said. It falls within our professional relationship and stays between us.”
The next question is whether the players will respond to their call-up and travel to Sweden on Thursday. Just a couple of hours before the squad was announced, the Spanish federation released a long statement promising to listen to the player’s concerns and instigate change.
“The RFEF wants to convey to the national team’s internationals the public commitment acquired by the new management of the institution that directs football in Spain. . .It is evident that the Federation, society and the players themselves are aligned on the same objective: renewal and the beginning of a new stage where football is the great beneficiary of this entire process.”
“For this reason, players are urged to join this change led by the Federation, understanding that the transformations that must continue must be solid and fair.”