The Spanish women’s soccer team, La Roja, has made history – and a powerful statement – by appointing its first-ever female head coach.
Former midfielder Montse Tomé, who served as the team’s assistant coach during this summer’s World Cup, has been chosen to replace current head coach Jorge Vilda. Spain’s soccer federation fired Vilda amid a fallout regarding president Luis Rubiales’ controversial behavior.
Rubiales appeared to forcibly kiss forward Jennifer Hermoso during on-field celebrations of Spain’s global victory in what he called a “totally spontaneous mutual gesture” – a claim Hermoso has denied.
After the incident, Spain’s entire World Cup-winning team – plus 33 additional players – released a letter asking for “real changes, both sporting and structural,” to the national team, including the removal of “current leaders.” They said they would refuse to return to the national team without a leadership change.
While FIFA, soccer’s governing body, suspended Rubiales on Saturday for 90 days pending disciplinary proceedings, Vilda’s firing wasn’t announced until Tuesday – shortly after Spain’s soccer federation, known as RFEF, issued a statement apologizing for “totally unacceptable behavior” by Rubiales.
In an interview on Spanish sports radio program ”El Larguero,” Vilda called his removal “unfair.” He said he didn’t believe La Roja’s letter calling for leadership change included him, because he is not a director. “I am a coach. So when you are talking about leadership, I do not feel it alluded to me.”
Still, he said he congratulated Tomé on her new post. “I think she deserves it,” he said. “I think she has the capacity to do the job really well.”
Tomé, one of 12 Spanish soccer employees who resigned in the wake of Rubiales’ scandal, has served as deputy coach under Vilda for the last five years. Prior to this, she was a player who had a 10-year club career and made four appearances with the women’s national team.
According to Spanish sports publication Diario AS, Tomé was among the Spain assistants who had the “closest and best rapport with the squad” and her appointment as Vilda’s successor is expected to draw players back to the international fold.
She will make her official debut as La Roja’s head coach on Sept. 22 when the team faces Sweden in their first game of the UEFA Women’s Nations League. Four days later, Spain will host Switzerland for Tomé’s first home game in charge of the team.