By now, I am sure most of you have seen Kosovare Asllani’s comments slamming Real Madrid for a “dangerous and unhealthy” work environment. If not, you can go over what she said by clicking on the sidebar.
In short, she accused the coaching staff of not paying heed to the medical team, constantly pushing her and others to play through injuries.
In 2021/22, Asllani was crippled by a number of ailments that limited her to less than 1000 minutes in the league. It was a frustrating season for her and ended with an unceremonious departure; Alberto Toril subbed on neither Asllani nor Cardona in the dead-rubber minutes of Madrid’s final match of the season, thereby denying the fans a desperately-desired chance to pay tribute to two of the side’s greatest players.
In light of this acrimonious context, it is easy for Madridistas to claim sour grapes. After all, as fans, we don’t need much to latch onto in order to come to the defense of the club. Any criticism levied at that gleaming crest is like an assault on our soul. At the slightest hint of an attack, we scramble to find whatever argument or piece of logic is in sight to protect the honor of the All White.
Indeed, it is possible that Asllani is bitter and that the nature of her exit from Real Madrid has left her with intensely negative feelings about her dream club; that, after all she sacrificed to come here in the first place, she is willing to risk damaging her own legacy.
It is difficult to verify her story one way or the other without further information, although Sofia Jakobsson has come out in support of her former club and current NT teammate, in addition to ex-Tacón player Chioma Ubogagu. At time of writing, Real Madrid have not responded to share their version of events.
Regardless, whether we get any further clarity on this or not, Asllani’s accusations are just one of many potential reasons to be frustrated with the management of the women’s team. As each issue has cropped up — big or small — fans, including myself, have done their best to acknowledge it without condemning the club as a whole.
However, after a certain point, the complications begin to accumulate and coalesce into an unflattering picture, where it appears as if the handling of the women’s team has been negligent and incompetent, with President Florentino Pérez seeming not to care.
Let’s start from the beginning.
The Story of Zara Mújica & Allegations Against an Older Management Structure
On Sept. 15, 2019, Real Madrid absorbed football club CD Tacón, giving Los Blancos their first ever women’s team. The full branding change occurred the following year, allowing the players to wear the all-white colors, bear the official crest, and be called “Real Madrid Femenino” in their second season as part of the institution.
The successful takeover was driven by Ana Rossell, who had long lobbied Real Madrid to create a women’s side. In 2014, Rossell decided to kick things into action herself, helping to found Club Deportivo Tacón.
Rossell became president and operated alongside Sporting Director Manuel Merinero and his deputy Carlos Murciano, with the goal of eventually becoming part of Real Madrid.
There is no doubting that this was a momentous occasion, but claims on how these figures have progressed the sport are complicated by a series of accusations that have been leveled against Rossell, Merinero, and Murciano by former players over the years, including in Tacón’s inaugural season as Real Madrid’s women’s team.
These footballers’ and ex-footballers’ complaints center around unfulfilled contractual obligations, broken promises, and more general mistreatment and abuse. Managing Madrid reached out to several of these players to hear their story, but only one chose to speak. The rest either ignored us or refused to talk, with one footballer noting that she wouldn’t go on record because she was reluctant to stir up controversy.
The player who chose to speak to Managing Madrid was Zara Mújica. You can read the full interview here, where she claims she experienced repeated mistreatment at the hands Merinero and Murciano. A quick hit of the highlights:
- “On the day of her putting pen to paper, Merinero and Carlos Murciano allegedly informed Zara that her parents would need to cough up 760 euros, which was meant to cover medical insurance, among other things. Translating for her dad, Rámon Mújica, Zara noted: “Obviously that shocked [us], because on the 16th of April 2019, I went to a training session [referring to the trial] and they never mentioned anything.”
- “Zara never even got to play a single game outside of friendlies. Merinero and Murciano justified the decision by citing residency issues, primarily that Zara didn’t have the right documents to play in Spain after moving from Wales. This perplexed Zara’s dad, as he claims his daughter is a Spanish national.”
- “Zara picked up an injury in December 2019. Instead of treating her at club facilities, Merinero allegedly instructed the teenager to go to a public hospital and lie. Zara was told to say that she got injured at school instead of with the team, thereby allowing the club to dodge any payments that they’d have to make.”
Other former Tacón players, such as Cristin Granados and Ruth Bravo, voiced their complaints on other platforms, which involved specific criticism of their housing situation/s and backlash from management, and other, vaguer comments. Again, you can read what they said here.
It is worth noting that the management structure changed after 2019/20 (the season that covers Zara’s brief career at Madrid). Murciano left in June 2020 and Merinero swapped his role as Sporting Director for a position with the youth teams before eventually departing. Nevertheless, Ana Rossell, who Zara and her father asserted had to have been aware of their situation as former president, took up Merinero’s role as Sporting Director. The highest positions were assumed by Catalina Miñarro (member of the Board of Directors in charge of women’s football) and Begoña Sanz (Deputy Director General of Sports and Head of Women’s Football), although there is a lack of clarity on who exactly runs the day-to-day operations (it is assumed to be Rossell).
One has to wonder why it took so long for there to be a reordering of management and what, if any, consequences Rossell had to experience for the emergence of these allegations under her stewardship. One also has to wonder what research was done before purchasing Tacón, given that it is unlikely that issues of this nature only allegedly took place once Madrid came into the picture. There is little reason for the “biggest club in history” to be blindsided by these things, having to scramble a year later to take action.
A Woefully Inadequate Communication Policy
The 2020/21 season felt like the dawn of a new era. Madrid’s management structure was different, if not completely revamped, the team was actually called “Real Madrid,” and the likes of Asllani and co. finally got to play in the white kit. Exciting signings rolled in — Cardona, Misa, Olga, Maite, Teresa, etc. — and the squad improved immeasurably, finishing 2nd in the league.
Nevertheless, it was hard to shake off the feeling that those with the most power didn’t really care; it was the little things, which began as minor annoyances and culminated into infuriating patterns.
To this day, Real Madrid does not issue official communications on whether a player has been injured or not. Instead, fans have been left to guess and gather their own inside sources simply to figure out why someone has been left out of the squad.
To this day, the club has not held press conferences for the women’s team in league competition. They only did so in the Champions League because UEFA mandated it. Thus, all we’ve had to consume, by and large, are interviews mediated by Real Madrid TV.
Madrid’s relationship with the press has always been disinterested at best, but the aforementioned processes are standard procedure for the men’s team. The club understands that they have a basic duty to provide fans with information on the Masculino squad, which involves timely articles and social media posts on starting elevens, general news, and contract expirations and departures.
With Femenino, this understanding seems non-existent — there have been occasions, where, no joke, the lineups were released just minutes before a game and squad lists were not released at all (not to mention the time when the social media manager just declined to post tweets on a series of goals until several minutes had passed). Additionally, the club is almost always dead-silent when it comes to contract expirations. It is only until players post farewell messages on their own accounts that we know the time has come to say goodbye.
Our most reliable source of information has been Arancha Rodríguez, a journalist and Real Madrid TV commentator. Her work is fantastic, but the fact that fans have to rely on her to disseminate quasi-official news (she tends to tell us who is injured and why, among other things) in place of Madrid is ridiculous and downright bizarre.
Within this context, it seems hopeless that the club will understand that restricting media access to the women’s team is a bad policy when trying to promote an entirely new part of the club, notwithstanding that the same policy holds true for the men’s side, which resides in a completely different reality in terms of fame and viewership.
Recently, Madrid hired Barbara Quesada to take over socials. She made her name at El Patio, a YouTube channel that has become iconic in Spanish Women’s football. This is a welcome step and should hopefully address many of these issues, but it remains to be seen how much leeway she will be given to do her job properly.
Presentation & Marketing
Don’t you just hate it when ads start playing in the middle of a video? They mess up the experience of watching a TV show, movie, or even a YouTube clip, but they’re ultimately kind of bearable in these circumstances because nothing is actually live — you know you’re not missing out on a key event while a middle-aged man tells you to buy FLEX TAPE®.
Now, what if those ads occurred in the middle of football matches. How would you feel, then?
Where does that happen, you ask? Ah, on Real Madrid’s Twitch broadcasts for Femenino games, of course! Don’t you just love to be analyzing a build-up sequence before, bang! — a 30-second commercial cuts off a part of the action?! How fun!
I don’t know if the pandemic really hit Real Madrid that hard or what, but I don’t think it’s beyond the pale to ask for uninterrupted viewing of a game (they cannot prevent pre-roll ads but can control ones that occur mid-stream). It is possible to get this on the actual Real Madrid TV website, but with worse resolution and the stream being much farther behind (go figure).
Well, if the club really was hurting that badly from a financial perspective, maybe it would’ve been prudent to sell jerseys of the women’s team on the online store. It wasn’t until March 2021, with more than half the season completed, that we had a chance to do so. I, myself, was forced to create and purchase a custom jersey — where I personally wrote down Cardona’s name and number — because there was no option to buy a readymade version in the fall.
The inability to meet demand for women’s sports’ merch has been a wider, recurring problem [go through the replies to this tweet if you want more, anecdotal examples] and reflects the comical contradiction of pointing out a lack of revenue absent investment or even an intent to garner said revenue.
Management of the Sporting Direction
The high of defeating Manchester City in the Champions League Qualifiers was quickly depressed by a truly disastrous start to the 21/22 league season. Here’s a table of Real Madrid’s form under ex-manager David Aznar:
At one point, the team’s chances at qualifying for Europe looked all but lost and they possessed the worst defensive record in the division.
Managing Madrid soon learned of serious discontent in the dressing room and attempts by players to kick Aznar out (the details of which were covered extensively in this podcast). The situation became hopelessly broken and the final matches of the Aznar era ended with personnel walking off the pitch in tears. Despite this, Managing Madrid got repeated information that the club was largely content to let this continue, until, suddenly, Aznar was fired after a draw with Deportivo Alavés. The decision apparently came down to his use of substitutions in that game, which arguably sabotaged Madrid’s chances of obtaining all three points.
If Florentino Pérez and co. were keeping track of the situation all along, it is difficult to see why it took 17 games and nearly 4 months for them to take action. A coach of the men’s team would never get away with that stretch of form regardless of circumstance and fairness, let alone in a context where they had completely lost the dressing room.
In Aznar’s defense, there was a severe injury crisis, and the extent to which he was at fault for Madrid’s travails is a discussion for another day (and one we have had countless times), but this was not helped by a preseason schedule that had the team playing back-to-back games (meaning that they didn’t get a day to rest). Cardona — the team’s best player in 20/21 — picked up a meniscus injury soon after the loss to Real Sociedad.
Whether it was possible for Madrid to find a different set of games is something that only management will know, but it is, once again, difficult to see the men’s team ever having to endure this, although men’s football is far from free from fixture congestion.
While the results turned around once Alberto Toril was hired, it was strange that Madrid brought in someone who had no previous experience working in women’s football and whose crowning accomplishment was having helmed Castilla’s Golden Generation in 2011/12. This is not to say that hiring Toril was necessarily the wrong decision — that remains to be seen — just that it seems to be another example hinting at a cavalier attitude towards the women’s team. If Madrid wanted a candidate with experience and promise, they likely had one in María Pry, a highly-rated Spanish coach who would’ve been available that winter.
Where Are Our Standards?
There is honestly more that I could talk about and probably even more that I have forgotten, but this article has to end somewhere.
I understand that this is tough for Madridistas to hear. No one likes to see such negative implications and insinuations aimed at what amounts to their identity. But there is another facet to Madridismo beyond tribalism (badge thumping doesn’t make us unique) — our standards. I thought Real Madrid were great because we have the loftiest expectations in the world; because we aspire to be the best in every single aspect of everything we do?
It’s not just the duty of a fan to defend the club when it comes under attack, but to demand that it sets, reaches, and maintains levels of performance, respect, and decency in line with its history and expectations.
Whether any one allegation is false or any perspective too harsh, the accumulation of evidence across three seasons paints a pretty damning picture: Real Madrid — from Florentino Pérez down to Ana Rossell — have displayed a troubling pattern of negligence and incompetence that has left the women’s team far below the standards that supposedly define this institution.
That needs to change, immediately.