Tuesday 15 August 2023, 00:00

Improvements behind Spain’s success

  • The historic qualification for the semi-finals comes following a series of improvements to the women’s national team

  • In May, the RFEF and the captains agreed on a work-life balance plan

  • The national team has a more comprehensive team of staff at the Women's World Cup, as well as a psychologist and a nutritionist for the first time

Spain’s qualification for the semi-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023™ is the most historic moment for Spanish women’s football, but also a reward for the work that has been carried out over the last few years, which is becoming apparent during the tournament in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand.

Since Spain made their FIFA Women’s World Cup™ debut in Canada in 2015, two coaches and many players have moved on, but the most important thing is the changes that have taken place within the national team to open the door to a more professional approach towards women’s football.

This May, the Spanish Football Association (RFEF) agreed on a work-life balance plan with the captains of the national team to be implemented during the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand™. The RFEF allocated a financial aid fund to help immediate family members travel and implemented measures so that players who are mothers could spend time with their children.

It was an almost mandatory step, and as well as being the starting point for improvements, it has been of great importance in the players’ everyday lives.

“It’s imperative for me to be with my son and for him to be with me,” said Irene Paredes, one of four players who have been called up to Spain’s squad for all three of their Women’s World Cup appearances, upon her arrival in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Irene Paredes of Spain celebrates with her partner after the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Quarter Final match between Spain and Netherlands at Wellington Regional Stadium

“The RFEF has made a huge effort in allowing us to bring our families. In my case, as Mateo [her son] is under two years old, he can stay at the hotel with me,” added Irene, who, just like captain Ivana Andrés, can spend her free time with her son and partner at Spain’s base camp in Palmerston North.

“The fact that family members can be here is positive and a joy,” emphasised Eva Navarro at a press conference a few days ago, while Irene Guerrero, another one of the captains, added: “I feel privileged to be able to share being here with my family. The RFEF’s help in making this possible is much appreciated. It’s something that will be remembered.”

 Ivana Andres of Spain celebrates with her partner and child after the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Quarter Final match between Spain and Netherlands

From their first Women’s World Cup appearance in Canada 2015 with barely any experience to today’s improvements, the progression has been tremendous. “There are many differences between this team and the team from eight years ago. We have many more tools and resources to perform better. On a personal level, the players have better conditions, such as the historic work-life balance agreement, which has made it possible for families to be close by – a great decision, in my opinion,” said coach Jorge Vilda recently.

“We have improved significantly in the Women’s Ranking and now we have top players playing in Spain,” added the head coach, who is also one of the mentors on the current FIFA Coach Mentorship programme.

One of the aspects that both players and coaches have been most grateful for is having more physiotherapists for their recovery and a psychologist and a nutritionist for the first time as part of the staff at the Women’s World Cup. A full team working around and for the players, although there were some initial doubts that were quickly resolved.

“Having Javier López Vallejo [psychologist] with us is a privilege. He does an extraordinary job. I admit that I had my doubts at first, but he has earned the players’ respect as he has been working with them since the youth teams. I thank him for being here,” stressed Jorge Vilda a few days ago.

These aspects and the progress made over the years were reflected in the moment shared by Jenni Hermoso and Alexia Putellas after the match against the Netherlands. The other two survivors of Spain’s three World Cups, along with Irene and Ivana, hugged each other and shared tears of joy while sat on the bench.

“I was on the bench sitting with Alexia... So many years have gone by and we remember everything we’ve been through. It has been tough. You realise that you’re in a World Cup semi‑final and look back at everything that’s happened,” she said. Now the objective is that the dream that was women’s football back in 2015 continues to progress and break down barriers.