Spain’s Aleixandri and García speak out on World Cup absence

A Spain player holds up the FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy
A Spain player holds up the FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy after the final vs England (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Spanish national team players Lucía García and Laia Aleixandri recently penned emotional letters for The Players’ Tribune, detailing their experience of missing out on the 2023 Women’s World Cup. 

Both players were part of Las 15, the Spanish player group who went on strike in protest of the mismanagement of the national team following the 2022 Euros. 

The two had made themselves available for selection in the months prior, yet neither was called up for the final World Cup squad. Only three of the original Las 15 players were. It has been suggested that the omission of many was a punishment for their protest.

The players’ letters give insight into the conditions leading up to the Las 15 strike, the fractions which led to players returning to the national squad, and the events surrounding the forced call-ups of September 2023.

What We Learned: Las 15 Complaints

The letters from García and Aleixandri give honest insight into the conditions experienced by players prior to the original Las 15 protest. 

García states: “The training sessions were always the same. Always. Every day. I swear to God, I had done the same drills since I was with the U17s.”

“There was a strict control every night at bedtime… Also, we almost never had the day to ourselves. If we had free time, it was supervised. It was like they were afraid of what we might do, as if they doubted how professional we really were.”

In her letter, Aleixandri details the structural issues surrounding the Euro 2022 campaign.

“We were never treated as professionals. We lacked certain things that are basic at the top level — stuff like proper travel arrangements, a team nutritionist and enough physiotherapists to treat all the players.

“Emotionally and physically, many of us were not well.”

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What We Learned: The Las 15 Return

García explained the rationale and events which led to the breakdown of unity across the Las 15 players. Some players returned to the national team in February 2023, while others continue to be steadfast in their refusal to play. 

García described the individual meetings which each player attended.

“The federation called us in one by one, but it was three of them and one of us: Two coaches and a psychologist versus one player. Even though they knew it was all about the group, and nothing personal. They would ask me things like, ‘What is it that you don’t like?’ It seemed like they wanted to remove all the nuance, to paint everything black and white. They even said: ‘You’re either in my boat or not.’

“It was really hard. You sit there all alone, nobody to talk to, no teammates to ask for advice, and you know that, in the end, they are the ones who control your future on the team. They crank up the pressure and before you know it, you have climbed back on board.””

The Manchester United player went on to explain her decision to make herself available for selection prior to the World Cup.

“Our collective agreement was broken. There was so much uncertainty. Once someone had stepped forward, you didn’t know who might be next. I don’t blame anyone for doing it, because I know how tough it was.”

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What We Learned: World Cup Heartbreak

Both players described their devastation when they realised they had been left out of the 2023 World Cup squad. 

Aleixandri wrote: “I thought I was ready for it, but when your whole career has led you to this moment, and you get dropped, it’s not just disappointment. Your stomach gets twisted up. Your heart sinks to the floor. The sense of loss is just overwhelming.”

García echoed Aleixandri, but the feeling of loss extended to her family.

“What made my heart sink was feeling that I had disappointed the people around me. My parents and my brothers deserve at least as much credit as I do for my career.

“When I quit Spain, I did not just give up the greatest honour in football for me. I also sacrificed a magical moment for them.”

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What We Learned: Forced Call-ups and RFEF Changes

Following the nonconsensual kiss of former RFEF President Luis Rubiales on Spanish player Jenni Hermoso at the World Cup, more than 80 former and current Spanish players released a statement in which they announced another national team strike. Subsequent events and international outcry resulted in the dismissal of Jorge Vilda as head coach. 

In September of 2023, newly-appointed national team coach Montse Tomé called upon 21 of the striking players during the September international break. Under the threat of significant penalties, the players were forced to attend camp. 

García described her shock at being called to the national team. She also explained the reason all of the players reported to camp.

“Our lawyer advised us that we were obliged to report to the squad, otherwise they could take away our sporting licence. It was so bizarre: 23 players who were forced to attend even though they didn’t want to play under circumstances like that. So we decided to go there and deal with it face to face.”

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The subsequent in-person meetings resulted in promises of significant changes by the RFEF in exchange for the end of the strike. 

In the letters, García and Alexiandri confirm that changes have been made, though neither states what they are. Both players were included in the most recent Spain squad. 

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