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Spain’s “Rebel 15"

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Spain’s “Rebel 15
From left, Patri Guijarro, Mapi Leon, and Sandro Panos. Photo: Getty Images

There is a years-long history to this months-long story, but in September, 15 Spanish national players took themselves out of World Cup selection to protect their mental well-being against the head coach, Jorge Vilda, and the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RSFF). They were declared the “Rebel 15,” and the RSFF threatened them with five-year bans. (Among the issues surrounding Vilda were his management style, his experience and credentials, that he wasn’t training players properly, didn’t have a game plan, and that his hiring was simply a favor to someone higher up.)

“I inform you that the events that have occurred and the situation that has arisen in the Spanish national team, a situation of which you are aware, are having an important effect on my emotional state and by extension my health,” each player e-mailed the RSFF at the time. Unfortunately, the RSFF’s maddening response was to make the e-mails public (which the players were furious about) and, four hours after the fact, release a statement that the move was “unprecedented,” “unethical,” and that “this rebellion would simply be put down,” according to the Guardian.

Ten months later, and the RSFF has seemingly stuck to its word. While a few small changes were implemented, only three of the “Rebel 15" chose to return. Among the 12 who won’t be at the Cup are three of Spain’s (and the sport’s) top players—Patri Guijarro (considered one of the best midfielders in the world), Mapi Leon (considered one of the best defenders in the world), and Sandra Panos (considered one of the best goalkeepers in the world).

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