Spain’s best female footballer refused to play in the World Cup under their coach. He's just been fired.

All eyes were on Spain in the FIFA Women’s World Cup final last month; but behind the scenes, there’s been tension bubbling over for almost a year.

Their journey to the World Cup final was fraught with obstacles and sacrifices, including losing top players like Mapi Leon, who ruled herself out of the cup amid questions about coach Jorge Vilda’s management style and behaviour.

On Tuesday, Vilda was fired after months of complaints from more than 15 players. The federation said in a statement that, as one of the “first measures of renewal” it had decided “to do without the services” of Vilda, who had been in the role since 2015. 

The federation named Montse Tomé as the women’s coach – the first woman to hold that position in Spain – and did not mention a reason for letting Vilda go.

The news comes at the same time as Spain’s soccer federation chief, Luis Rubiales, is being investigated after forcibly kissing a member of the national team at the Women's World Cup medal ceremony.

Here's everything else we know about the Spain national team's toxic workplace problem.

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Trouble started brewing in the lead up to the World Cup selections. In September last year, 15 of Spain’s best footballers were reportedly so unhappy with the conditions and lack of support being given, they chose not to take part in the World Cup.

The majority of the players were from FC Barcelona, and they all wrote identical emails to Luis Rubiales, head of the Spanish FA (RFEF), explaining that due to their “emotional state and as such [their] health”, they would not be available for selection to the World Cup squad.

Leon – a two-time Champion League winner – spoke to Catalan radio station RAC1 in May, and while she didn’t go into details about why she refused to play, she did imply that her decision was based on her own morals and ethics.

“Right now I’m not going to the World Cup,” Leon, 28, said. “It makes me sad, as I deserve it and I contributed to getting the team there, but it’s not a decision that you take lightly and it’s not easy. My decision is clear. Mapi Leon has a way of living and she has values to stick to. I can’t go back, there has to be changes. If they tell me and there is a plan, but I don’t see changes.”

Image: Getty


The 15 players did not name the exact reasons why they were disgruntled with Vilda’s management, and the coach remained in the role – forging ahead with the players who had committed to fighting for the World Cup trophy. Vilda, 42, has been in charge of the side since 2015 and led them to the quarter finals of the EURO 2022.

He said of the team in April, “It’s an attractive team in terms of style and we are creating a very cohesive group with players who are totally committed. If we all go in the right direction and we all try our best, playing how we want to play, which are bigger than some irrelevant things, I’m sure we will achieve all the objectives that we set ourselves.”


Still, some noted tension in the team after Spain’s quarter-final win over Sweden in Auckland, with some of the team seen pointedly snubbing coach Vilda and celebrating amongst themselves instead.

Reports from the time of the revolt pointed to the players – known as ‘Las 15’ – having issues with training and facilities, and with Vilda’s authoritarian approach to leading the team. After conciliatory talks, three of the 15 returned - Aitana Bonmati, Mariona Caldentey and Ona Batlle – but to fans’ disappointment, Leon stuck to her guns and sat the competition out.

World Cup podcast hosts Christen Press and Tobin Heath commented on the “complicated” dynamic on the Spanish team on the latest episode of The RE-CAP Show.

Press said, “Ultimately I will always root for the players on the field… They should be heard and listened to and respected the first time that they say something if someone’s talking about an unfriendly unhealthy environment, I don’t need to hear anything more.”

Meanwhile, Heath said, “There is no place for abuse in women’s football… It’s not okay, winning does not make abuse okay. And I wish that these players win so they get the platforms and the ability to really change the culture and the narrative that’s going on there because they all deserve better.”

This article was originally published on August 20, and has since been updated with new information.

Feature Image: Getty.

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