Jorge Vilda hits back after sack: ‘I spent 17 years fighting for women’s football’

<span>Photograph: Zac Goodwin/PA</span>
Photograph: Zac Goodwin/PA

Jorge Vilda says he did not deserve to be sacked as Spain coach two weeks after winning the Women’s World Cup. The 42-year-old, who was dismissed on Tuesday, also denied claims that he tried to pressure Jenni Hermoso into defending Luis Rubiales after the now-suspended president had kissed the midfielder on the lips during the medal ceremony in Sydney.

“After everything that was achieved, after giving everything working, my conscience is clear: I have given 100% over 17 years and I do not understand [the decision], I did not deserve my sacking,” Vilda said. “This team’s success will be valued more with time. I am left with the doubt over what the footballing criteria are that mean I am not continuing as coach. It is a strange situation. What hurts most is that my honour and behaviour are questioned.”

Related: Moving the Goalposts | Jorge Vilda is gone but this must be the beginning, not the end

Vilda, who was the director of women’s football as well as the coach, was informed by his sacking by Pedro Rocha, the Spanish football federation’s interim president, during a meeting held in Las Rozas, 25km northwest of Madrid. In an interview with the Spanish radio station Cadena Ser, he said the explanation he had been given was a “structural reorganisation”. He has been replaced by his former assistant, Montse Tomé.

Vilda had come under increasing pressure after applauding Rubiales during a speech at the federation assembly in which the president refused to resign and claimed that the kiss during the medal ceremony had been consensual, something that Hermoso denied. With the backing of Rubiales, Vilda had survived a mutiny from 15 players a year ago. But his position had become untenable amid the fall out from Sydney, when 81 footballers, including all 23 members of the World Cup-winning squad, released a statement saying they would not play for the national team while the “current administrators” are in place. Eleven of the 14 coaching staff also resigned, including Tomé.

That statement from the players, encapsulated in the hashtag se acabo (it’s over), came after the speech in which Rubiales claimed that Hermoso had consented to the kiss and denounced “false feminism”. He had also publicly offered Vilda a new contract, increasing his salary from €170,000 (£145,000) to €500,000 a year. Vilda was among those who stood to applaud the president but the next day, with Rubiales having been suspended by Fifa from all football-related activities for 90 days, he released a statement of his own describing the president’s behaviour with Hermoso as “unacceptable” and “inappropriate”.

“I will never applaud anything sexist, I will never applaud anything that goes against feminism, understood as the fight for equality,” Vilda said on Tuesday night. “I didn’t know what was going to happen: we thought there was going to be a resignation. There are lots of people, you are in the front row and it is your boss giving the speech, and a lot of it is directed at you. In that moment, he is saying publicly that he is extending my contract and valuing my work, and I did applaud.

“I did also applaud the management of women’s football, where [investment] has been multiplied by four. The budget for women’s football used to be €3m [a year]; now it is €28m. There used to be five of us coaches; now there are 14, plus six temporary staff, 20 in total. We have a charter [plane], two chefs, nutritionists, we have everything. Since I started in 2015, they have not said no to me on any request. Also, it is quite difficult when 140, 150 people stand up and applaud to be the only one that doesn’t. Afterwards you’re in a bit of shock, you reflect and you think: ‘I would never applaud that.’”

Vilda also denied claims that he had put pressure on Hermoso to appear in the apology video recorded by Rubiales in Qatar during the layover on the flight home, in an attempt to limit the fallout. “I was the penultimate person in the line and I did not see Rubiales’s kiss. When I saw the footage, I was surprised. It’s an inappropriate act,” he said. “On the flight back, which is 24 hours long, there are lots of players resting. There are conversations with players, families, but I did not ask Jenni to come out and talk.”

The former coach also rejected suggestions that he should have walked away when the 15 players first pulled out of the national team set up in October of last year demanding improvements across the board which though never explicitly expressed included his removal. Asked if he his sacking had come about because he had no support from the players, he replied: “I don’t think you can achieve what we have without [the players] following the coaching staff.

“I don’t think I should have left sooner. We rebuilt a difficult situation. After the email from the 15 players, I put my post at the disposal [of the federation]. Rubiales spoke to the players and with his support and the support of everyone [the players] we got that star [as world champions],” he said.

“In sporting terms I accept everything [that’s said], or almost everything. On a personal level, I do believe people have been unjust with me. It has been a special year. Nothing has ever been said directly but indirectly there have been things said that do not fit with me at all. Things have been said that are not true. Nobody ever said, no one with a name and a surname, that Jorge Vilda is this or he has done that. Up until now, absolutely no one has come out. I have spent 17 years fighting for women’s football, for the values of respect, equality, team work and sporting behaviour.”