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Mapi León: I’m not missing the World Cup just because I don’t fancy it

The FC Barcelona Femení defender spoke to Catalunya Radio about the difficult situation with the national team.

England vs Spain at Euro 2022

Ever since the news broke of fifteen players handing letters to Jorge Vilda expressing they no longer felt “in conditions to be chosen for the national team”, rumours have gathered like speculative pigeons on a telephone line over the Laz Rozas training base on the outskirts of Madrid.

The news of the breakdown in the relationship with Vilda and the squad came out after Spain’s exit of Euro 2022, a tournament in which saw them start as favourites to win, given their talented squad and long unbeaten run. A loss to England in the cruellest of circumstances - a deflected goal and a late mix-up in extra-time - was no shabby way to leave the competition, but the players who now refuse to play under Vilda would perhaps argue that more can be done to creep closer to the trophies that they feel they deserve.

The majority of the players who sent the identical letters to their coach and the federation back in September are from FC Barcelona Femení, the team that has pushed the boundaries of womens’ football in Spain and across the globe, leading the way for progress and channelling belief that the sport can grow. Their treble win in the 2020-21 pandemic season, with Alexia Putellas, Aitana Bonmatí and Patri Guijarro showing their class in midfield, was an exhibition of how football in the blaugrana colours could - and maybe should - be played; the three players epitomised the success and stature of the city within sport at a time when hope was hard to come by.

Mapi León for FC Barcelona Femeni vs Real Sociedad Femenino
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Mapi León for FC Barcelona Femeni vs Real Sociedad Femenino Gorka LeizaDiarioAS

Oh, how warm and fuzzy it was, so easy to dream. It looked as though womens’ football in Spain had taken a leap through the ages, crossing solar systems and riding thermal currents at lightspeed around the planet, becoming a self-perpetuating force of nature that anyone who wanted to jump on and celebrate. Record-breaking crowds gathered at Camp Nou for fixtures, shirts sales tipped away from Messi and towards Alexia, Spain were on a run of scoring 48 goals to no reply.

Mapi’s comments to Cataunya Radio

“It seems like our decision is easy”, Mapi León said to Catalunya Radio. “I train every day for a lot of reasons and one of those is to play at a World Cup. I’m not going to miss a World Cup in my lifetime and have people think that I’m doing it just because I fancy it... because I do want to go. We are a lot of players [who have refused to train under Jorge Vilda] and we have been quite clear within what’s possible and I still feel we could be listened to more.”

The words of Mapi León procure as much sadness as they do confusion for some; the Federation stands behind Vilda and his staff as arguably the best squad of players in the world say everything other than ‘Vilda isn’t good enough’. The coach was subject to the wildest of speculation online, everything from him not having the appropriate qualifications to accusations of mistreatment, the word of assumptions perhaps filled the gaps left by the lack specific motives within the original letters from the players.

The thing about us not explaining things clearly”, Mapi continued, “I don’t need to go to the press to explain it and tell them I want this and that and they don’t give me it. I have a problem with you and I go and tell you. We don’t work like that. I don’t have any need to be speaking to the press and telling them things.”

Alexia Putellas won the Ballon d'Or in both 2021 and 2022.
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Alexia Putellas won the Ballon d'Or in both 2021 and 2022.FRANCK FIFEAFP

Do the Federation care about womens’ football?

Vilda is seen by the players as a representation of the fact that the Federation - and ultimately the RFEF President, Luis Rubiales - does not see fútbol femenino as a priority, and continuity candidate Vilda is a safe option.

It’s a culmination of everything. It’s training, it’s being more serious. They’re things that, at the end of the day, we don’t have to take charge of, to put it that way. There comes a moment in which you feel like you’re not playing at the level you could be at. You’re not comfortable when you’re seeing that there’s times where we have been 9 Barcelona players on the pitch and even still we aren’t playing in the same way. We aren’t saying someone is better or worse, we are saying that if you do it that way, things don’t work.”

“It’s about wanting to improve, because we all want to improve, we are ambitious and we think we have a team to be able to achieve big things. It has been in which we haven’t achieved what we want and at the end of it all, football is also about getting results.”


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