Jorge Vilda has been fired as the head coach of Spain's women's national team more than two weeks after they won their first-ever Women's World Cup title and a year after players refused to play in part because of his leadership.
Vilda coached Spain's youth teams before taking over as the senior national team head coach in 2015, shortly after they played in the Women's World Cup for the first time. He was in charge as Spain made a name for themselves in the women's game, but had an unimpressive record in major competitions before this year's World Cup. They had not won a knockout match before 2023 under Vilda, which led many to believe Spain were not realizing their potential.
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A quarterfinal exit against England at the 2022 Women's Euros was followed by a protest that September when 15 players sent individual but identical emails refusing to play for the team until certain changes were made by leadership. The group of players included eventual World Cup Golden Ball winner Aitana Bonmati and were backed by three players who did not send emails but publicly voiced support including Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas and lead goalscorer Jennifer Hermoso. The players complained of insufficient funding and a toxic culture, and as it pertained to Vilda and his coaching staff, a lack of privacy. The coaching staff reportedly forced players to keep hotel room doors open during training camps and inspected their bags after they returned from excursions during their free time.
The Royal Spanish Football Federation backed Vilda and required players to apologize if they wanted to be reintegrated into the national team, which eight of the 15 subsequently did. Three players were eventually included in the World Cup squad, though there seemed to be a disconnect between Vilda and the players as Spain made their historic run to the podium. He was iced out by the players during their celebrations and was booed by fans at the final, but the federation supported him by posting "Vilda in" on social media that day.
Vilda positioned himself as one of Luis Rubiales' allies in the wake of the disgraced president's forced kiss on Hermoso at the World Cup final. He reportedly tried to convince her family to persuade Hermoso to appear in Rubiales' apology video, which she did not do and then applauded Rubiales as he refused to resign in a speech. Rubiales also publicly offered Vilda a new contract with an increased salary of €500,000 during that speech, but it seemed unlikely there would be any follow through once Rubiales was suspended by FIFA for 90 days.
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The coach walked back his applause of Rubiales after more than 80 women players launched a new protest refusing to play for the national team under the current leaders, the entire technical staff of Spain's women's program resigned and public criticism only grew louder. It eventually became clear that Vilda's number was up as the days progressed, and his ouster became the first symbol of change under the leadership of Pedro Rocha, who took charge following Rubiales' suspension.
Montse Tome, one of Vilda's assistant and a former national team player, will take over and becomes the first woman to coach the team. She will be in charge during the World Cup winners' Nations League matches against Sweden and Switzerland, but it is unclear if this will end the player protest with Rubiales yet to formally depart as the federation president.
New president Rocha has attempted to do damage control since taking Rubiales' place, including through a statement sent hours before Vilda's dismissal was official. The federation issued a lengthy apology for Rubiales' actions, which caused "pain and shame," and said it was complying with investigators in regards to probes into the suspended president. The federation also reiterated last week's statement calling for Rubiales' resignation by local officials.
The federation's busy day of announcements comes after Spain's men's team condemned Rubiales on Monday. The men's squad will play their first games since the World Cup win this week and told members of the media that Rubiales' behavior was "unacceptable" and expressed solidarity with their World Cup-winning counterparts. "We stand firmly and clearly on the side of the values that sport represents," they said, per ESPN. "Spanish football must be an engine of respect, inspiration, inclusion and diversity and must set an example with its conduct both on and off the pitch."
The statement was reportedly a watered-down version of what was originally drafted by a group of team leaders, including captain Alvaro Morata and goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga. The federation wanted the comment to be less emphatic, per Spanish publication El Pais, and took issue with Morata's use of the word "equality" in earlier drafts. Players are also under pressure by the federation to not name-drop or answer questions about Rubiales or Hermoso during the international break.
Spain legend Sergio Busquets, who retired from the national team and currently plays in MLS with Inter Miami, also condemned Rubiales following Miami's 3-1 win at LAFC on Sunday. "It's clear," he said, per DW Sports. "The behavior of the president was unacceptable and I'm here with Jenni and all the other players."