MADRID (AP) — The coach of Spain's World Cup-winning women's soccer team was fired Tuesday, less than three weeks after the victory celebration that led to the suspension of the country's soccer federation president for kissing a player.
The Spanish soccer federation offered no immediate explanation for the dismissal and mostly praised Jorge Vilda, saying he was “key to the notable growth of women’s soccer” and thanking him for leading the national women's team to its first World Cup title and to No. 2 in the FIFA rankings.
Vilda was among those who at first applauded federation president Luis Rubiales when he refused to resign despite facing widespread criticism for kissing player Jenni Hermoso on the lips without her consent during the on-field victory celebrations last month in Sydney.
One of Vilda's assistant coaches, Montse Tomé, was appointed to replace him. Tomé is the first woman to hold the job.
Vilda said he was caught by surprise by the federation's decision and described his dismissal as “unfair.” Rubiales had announced in the federation's emergency general assembly after the World Cup that Vilda would have his contract renewed.
“The explanation they gave me was that there were some structural changes,” Vilda told Spanish radio network SER. “After everything I've achieved, after having given my 100%, my conscience is clear. I don't understand the firing, I didn't think I deserved it.”
Vilda said he expected Rubiales to resign during the general assembly. He said he didn't applaud in support of Rubiales or his conduct.
“I would never applaud anything that goes against the fight for equality,” Vilda said. “I didn’t know very well what was going to happen in that assembly. The president was praising my work and announcing my renewal, I applauded that. When 150 people applaud, it’s hard to be the only one who doesn’t.”
Vilda eventually said Rubiales’ behavior was improper. Luis de la Fuente, coach of the men's national team, also initially applauded Rubiales for a diatribe against what Rubiales called “false feminists.” De la Fuente later apologized and said his applause was an “inexcusable” human error.
Rubiales, who also grabbed his crotch in a lewd victory gesture after the World Cup finale, has been provisionally suspended by FIFA and faces a Spanish government case against him for the conduct that prompted a storm of criticism and led to widespread calls for his resignation. He has pledged to prove his innocence and return to full control of the federation.
Vilda had been at the helm of the women’s team since 2015. Less than a year ago, some players rebelled against him in a crisis that put his job in jeopardy.
Fifteen players stepped away from the national team, citing their mental health, and demanded a more professional environment. Only three returned to the squad that won the World Cup.
The players who left signed a letter complaining about Vilda and the conditions for the national team.
Vilda was heavily backed by Rubiales when the players rebelled.
The 41-year-old Tomé is a former player who made a few appearances with the national team. She joined Vilda’s staff in 2018 after coaching some of Spain's youth squads.
There was no immediate reaction from the squad. Many players had called for significant changes in the team's structure. It wasn’t clear whether the players who rebelled under Vilda would seek to return.
In a statement announcing the firing, the soccer federation expressed gratitude to Vilda “for the services provided, for his professionalism and his dedication during all these years.”
Vilda "leaves the federation with an extraordinary sporting legacy thanks to the implementation of a recognized game model and a methodology that has been an engine of growth for all the women’s categories of the national team,” the statement said.
During the team’s title celebration in Madrid after the World Cup, Vilda received a lukewarm welcome from fans. He had been jeered by some during a viewing party during the final match.
The World Cup title was Spain's first since the men’s team won its lone trophy at the 2010 tournament in South Africa. This year marked only the third World Cup appearance by the women’s team.
The Spanish squad, known as La Roja, got to the knockout round four years ago but lost to the eventual champion U.S. team. It had not advanced past a major semifinal since the 1997 European Championship.
Pedro Rocha, who is currently in charge of the Spanish soccer federation, released a letter Tuesday apologizing for Rubiales’ behavior.
Rocha said the federation had the responsibility to ask for “the most sincere apologies to the soccer world as a whole,” especially to fans and players of the women’s national team, “for the totally unacceptable behavior of its highest representative.”
In no way did his behavior represent "the values of Spanish society as a whole, its institutions, its representatives, its athletes and the Spanish sports leaders,” Rocha wrote.
Rocha on Tuesday met with Victor Francos, the head of the Spanish government’s sports body, to explain the structural changes expected in the federation.
In other developments, the captains of the Spanish men’s national team on Monday condemned Rubiales’ “unacceptable behavior” in a show of support for the women’s team.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer
Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press