Spain women's players deny calling for coach to be sacked, say they won't return until 'professional project' in place

A group of Spain players have denied claims from the Spanish FA they called for the team's coach to be fired but have reaffirmed their wish not to be selected until there is a commitment to a "professional project."

On Thursday the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) said 15 players from the women's national team had threatened to quit if boss Jorge Vilda was not dismissed, citing their health and emotional state.

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But on Friday players including Alexia Putellas -- the Barcelona midfielder and Ballon d'Or winner who had not been part of the initial group to sign the statement -- issued a joint statement on social media in response to the RFEF.

The players criticised the RFEF for having "made public, in a partial and self-interested way, a private statement" and denied they had renounced the national team, saying their commitment was "unquestionable."

"We want a firm commitment towards a professional project in which all aspects are taken care of to get the best performances out of a group of players who we consider can achieve more and better objectives," the players said.

"We never asked for the dismissal of the manager as has been said. We understand that our job is under no circumstances to choose this role, but it is to express in a constructive and honest manner what we consider could improve the group's performance.

"Could anyone believe that, with eight months to go until a World Cup, a group of players of maximum level, which is what we consider ourselves to be, would make this decision on a whim or as a form of blackmail, as has been suggested publicly?

"By asking not to be selected, we penalise our professional career, our economic situation and of course continuing to build something important in women's football. Because having reached where we are now cost years of effort for lots of people. And there are still lots of things to improve, as is being demonstrated recently."

Speaking earlier on Friday, the RFEF's women's football chief said the federation would respect the players' request and would not call them up for upcoming games against Sweden and the United States.

"Jorge Vilda will make a list in which these 15 players will not be included, as it is their wish, for the reasons they have given," Alvarez said.

"The work of the management group goes beyond those 15 players. In Spain we have talent of a very high level, with more, equal or less experience."

The statement signed by the unsettled players and sent by email to the RFEF on Thursday said they were "renouncing" playing for the national team as the situation was strongly affecting their health and emotional state.

The players did not state specific reasons for their demand Vilda be replaced, nor explicitly call for him to leave. According to sources close to the situation, the players are unhappy with the management of injuries, the atmosphere in the locker room, Vilda's team selection and his training sessions.

The list of players included the team's third captain, Patri Guijarro; goalkeeper Sandra Panos and midfielder Aitana Bonmati.

The email read: "The general situation on the Spanish national team generated by recent events, events which [the federation] is aware of, is greatly affecting my emotional state and therefore my health."

"Due to this, I presently do not consider myself to be a available for our national team and therefore ask to not be called up until this situation changes."

The email also highlighted the player's "full commitment to the team in the past, present and future."

The RFEF said it would not fold to pressure from any player regarding sporting matters and labelled their actions as being "far from exemplary and out of the values of soccer and sport."

"If we have to play with younger and less experienced players we will because the national team is above everything," Alvarez said. "This is very, very serious and has never happened before, hence it's unexpected."

Alvarez said Vilda, who has been in charge since 2015 and is under contract until 2024, has the federation's full support.

"Jorge Vilda is like we all are," she said. "I spoke to him. This situation is not nice.

"Vilda wants to continue and for sure we want him to continue."

Spain men's coach Luis Enrique described the situation as "totally abnormal."

"It is a totally abnormal situation, difficult to manage," Enrique said. "I have no doubt that the federation will deal with it in the best possible way."

While saying she does not question the emotional distress of the players, Alvarez said there had been no reports of verbal or sexist abuse similar to the ones that have been leveled by former players against Vilda's predecessor, Ignacio Quereda, whom Vilda replaced in 2015.

Despite the national team's three captains -- Irene Paredes, Jenni Hermoso and Guijarro -- denying last month that they had asked for Vilda's resignation, tension has been mounting between Spain players and their coach.

"They [players] have decided to take this firm step," Alvarez said. "It's their decision and it's been noted. If they don't want to come and are not committed at this time, that's what it will be. We are not going to question how the players feel. They have already said it in a very clear way via a statement."

The Spanish soccer federation has said that the players will not be allowed to return until they "ask for forgiveness."

United States forward Megan Rapinoe has issued her support for the unsettled Spain players.

Rapinoe said in an Instagram post: "You've got a 16th standing with you in the United States. These many players together like this is so powerful. We should all listen."

The Spanish government, meanwhile, is hoping the situation will be resolved.

Spain's sports council already had to act as mediator earlier this month after female referees went on strike demanding improved conditions in what was the first season of a fully professional women's league in Spain.

The council's president, Jose Manuel Franco, who described the players' threat to quit as "disgraceful", told Spanish radio program COPE: "Spanish women's football was acquiring a vital and unique importance in Europe.

"We cannot afford this type of situation. Representing your country in any sport is the maximum any Spaniard can aspire to."

Spain have two friendlies coming up, first against Sweden on Oct. 7 and the United States four days later.

Vilda guided Spain to the quarterfinals of Euro 2022 before losing in extra time to eventual winners England.

Information from the Associated Press contributed to this report.