The Spanish women’s soccer team appointed its first ever female head coach after her predecessor was fired on the same day amid ongoing fallout over an unwanted kiss given by soccer chief Luis Rubiales to a player at the Women’s World Cup final.
Just hours after Jorge Vilda was sacked from his role as the team’s head coach, the country’s soccer federation (RFEF) announced he would be replaced by his deputy, Montse Tomé.
Tomé will be the first woman in charge of the women’s national team and her debut match will come on September 22 against Sweden.
The moves comes as part of a major shake-up in Spanish soccer ever since Rubiales, the president of the RFEF, forcibly kissed forward Jennifer Hermoso on August 20.
Rubiales has apologized for his actions and described the kiss as “mutual” – a claim Hermoso denied, saying she was not respected. He has been handed a 90-day suspension by FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, while disciplinary proceedings are underway.
In a statement announcing Vilda’s sacking, RFEF said he was “key to the notable growth of women’s football and leaves Spain as world champions and second in the FIFA rankings.”
The federation described the move as “one of the first measures of restructuring announced by (interim) President Pedro Rocha.”
Vilda had been the women’s national team coach since 2015. “RFEF appreciates his work at the head of the national team and his responsibilities as the maximum sporting figure of the women’s national teams, as well as the successes reaped during his term, crowned with the recent achievement of the World Cup,” the statement added.
It also praised Vilda’s “impeccable personal and sporting conduct” and as a “key part of the notable growth of women’s football in Spain,” describing him as “a promoter of the values of respect and sportsmanship in football.”
Vilda, who previously coached Spain’s under-17 and under-19 women’s teams, led La Roja to a first Women’s World Cup title last month with a 1-0 victory against England in the final.
However, success on the pitch has belied a tense atmosphere in the squad and the long-standing animosity between some of the country’s best players, Vilda’s technical staff and RFEF.
Following the team’s victories against the Netherlands and Sweden in the World Cup quarterfinals and semifinals, videos went viral on social media of what appeared to be cold reactions from some of Spain’s substituted players towards Vilda and his staff, as well as during the post-match celebrations.
One clip showed Vilda trying to celebrate with a handful of players following the win over the Netherlands, only to appear to be ignored.
The players’ dissatisfaction dates back beyond September last year, when 15 members of the senior women’s squad sent personally signed letters to RFEF via email to announce they would no longer play for the national team unless there were wholesale changes made throughout the coaching staff.
The identical letters said that “the situation” within the Spanish national team – about which RFEF was “aware” – had been affecting the players’ “emotional state” and health.
“As a result, I do not currently consider myself to be in a condition to be chosen for the national team and I ask not to be called up until the situation is resolved,” the letter read.
Of the 15 players who signed the letters, only three were in Spain’s World Cup squad: Mariona Caldentey, Aitana Bonmatí and Ona Batlle.
CNN previously contacted RFEF and Vilda for comment regarding the letter but did not receive a response. After it was released, Vilda described the situation as “a world embarrassment” and said the solution was to build a team “only with players 100% committed to the project.”
Controversy surrounding Vilda has only intensified following the World Cup final as footage from the match appeared to show him inappropriately touching a female staff member while celebrating Spain’s goal against England. Vilda did not respond to questions about the incident when contacted by CNN via RFEF.
When Rubiales, speaking at the federation’s Extraordinary General Assembly last month, refused to resign from his position, he also offered his backing to Vilda and said he was starting the process of offering the coach a new four-year deal on about $542,000 (€500,000) a year.
“On another level, a lot smaller (than my situation), but they wanted to do to you what they’re doing to me now,” Rubiales said at the time.
“A false narrative to try to transform it into the truth. We’ve suffered a lot, we’ve gone through a lot, we’ve swallowed a lot, but we’ve been together: you and me and your team.”
Vilda, like many in the room, was seen applauding Rubiales throughout the assembly. The following day, however, he issued a statement condemning the actions of the beleaguered soccer chief.
“I am deeply sorry that the victory of Spanish women’s football has been harmed by the inappropriate behavior that our until now top leader, Luis Rubiales, has carried out and that he himself has recognized,” Vilda said in the statement, which was widely shared by Spanish media.
Prior to Spain’s success at the Women’s World Cup, Vilda led the team to the knockout stages of the 2019 tournament and successive quarterfinals at the European championships in 2017 and 2022.
As coach of the country’s youth women’s teams, he twice won the under-17 European championships and also the under-19 European Championships.
CNN’s Matias Grez and Jill Martin contributed to reporting.