The recent rise of Spanish football – with four UEFA Women's European Under-17 Championship and now three UEFA Women's European Under-19 Championship titles since 2010 – is synonymous with one man: Jorge Vilda.
At the age of 28, the son of Ángel Vilda, who had guided Spain to runners-up in the 2009 UEFA Women's European Under-17 Championship, led his side to a 4-1 penalty shoot-out victory over the Republic of Ireland in Nyon's Colovray Stadium. It was a resonant response to a crushing 7-0 defeat under his father's guidance 12 months prior, and the start of a new era in Spanish football.
"This success is reward for all the hard work put in both by the girls and coaching staff, and I'd say we've deserved this title," said Vilda after he became the first coach since 2004 to lead a female Spain side to a UEFA youth competition title, succeeding at his first attempt eight years ago. "When you train well all year and enjoy the various trips you make for matches, a final result like this is the icing on the cake."
That cake is gaining tier upon tier, like a lavish wedding variety. The nuptials between Vilda and the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (RFEF) are bringing mutual benefits. Spain successfully defended their 2010 Under-17s crown a year later and a subsequent third and second-place finish, followed by a runners-up spot at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Costa Rica 2014, having come third in Trinidad and Tobago four years earlier, led to Vilda's promotion to the helm of the Under-19s.
He led them to the final of the 2015 UEFA Women's Under-19 European Championship, proving his maiden success in 2010 cannot be attributed purely to beginner's luck. "He's intense and intelligent. He's kind of intimidating in a lot of ways, you have to respect him, and we do. Not because we're scared of him, but because we know he wants the best for us. We'll always listen to what he has to say. He's the best coach we've had," said Sandra Hernández, captain of Spain's Under-19s prior to that 2015 final.
The way his orders from the touchline were executed immediately and without hesitation, notably in the high pressure situation of the final, suggest this 2018 crop will go away with similar memories and recollections of working for a man who, in 2015, became head coach of Spain's senior women's team and guided them to the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, as the first European nation apart from the hosts France to qualify.
Instrumental in the emergence of some of Spain's most talented players in recent years, the 37-year-old Madrid-born coach was on the ten-name shortlist for the FIFA Women’s Football Coach of the Year in 2010 and 2014, and The Best FIFA Women's Coach award in 2018, the year he was also appointed as the Spanish FA's technical director for women's football in June with the "firm objective of conserving the philosophy of play and the work methodology which has given us so much success, and evolve it and continue to develop it together with the technical staff," according to the RFEF.
He is pursuing that by maintaining a close collaboration with Under-17s coach Toña Is, who followed in his footsteps with glory in Lithuania in May, and Pedro López, whose seat Vilda kept warm in Switzerland while he was instead preparing the Under-20s for the World Cup – and what could potentially be a hat-trick of titles in 2018.
"Thanks to the job of the whole coaching staff, it's a really strong team and all but two will still be eligible for the Under-19s next year," said Vilda, who was joined in Switzerland by his entire backroom staff from the senior Spain side, with regular Under-19 coach López keeping his staff for the World Cup. "First of all we won the Under-17s, now the Under-19s and hopefully the Under-20s. Now it is their turn at the World Cup."
"I'm really proud of this team for what they've achieved. It's really something amazing. Most of all because of the respect Spain are winning on the pitch. We're enjoying the moment to the full. When you reach a final, you never know if you're going to play another one. Playing and reaching the final is something amazing, only the best teams can do that."
With Vilda's wisdom, experience and tutelage, Spain have reaffirmed that they belong in that 'best teams' category.