Helena Costa has made history after becoming the first female coach to take over a male football team. Hailed as a “historic” decision, Eevee’s Martin Whiteley asks whether her appointment ushers in a new era for women in football…
History was made last week when French Ligue 2 club Clermont Foot hired female football coach Helena Costa. Never before has a women coached at this level in the men’s game. Indeed, only one other female has coached a male professional side before.
Carolina Morace was the top scorer in Serie A in the 1984–85 season and for 11 consecutive years from 1987–1988 to 1997–1998. After retiring form playing, Morace coached the Lazio ladies team and went on to take charge of the Italian women’s national team from 2000-2005, as well as the Canadian women’s team from 2009-2011. In June 1999, Morace was installed as the coach of men’s football team Viterbese of Italian Serie C1, but resigned after only two games due to media pressure taking the focus off her team.
Costa 36, who’s full name is Helena Margarida dos Santos e Costa, was born in Portugal and replaces Regis Brouard, who had Clermont in 14th place with two matches remaining.
Costa does not inherit her love of football from her father – who did not even like the sport. Indeed, she admits that she would often go to neighbour’s houses to watch games. Steadily she worked her way up, holding both a Masters degree in sports science and a UEFA A Licence in coaching.
In her native Portugal, Costa started her road to success coaching Benfica’s youth team from 1997-2005, leading them to second place in the national championship in her final year there. At the same time Costa also managed lower league side Cheleirense — winning the Lisbon Championship in 2006.
Costa has also excelled in the women’s game in her homeland, claiming two titles with S.U. 1º Dezembro in 2007 and 2008 and taking Odivelas to promotion to the top flight as champions in 2009.
Those successes led to Costa being asked to coach the Qatar’s women’s national team in 2010 and overseeing their first ever victory — a 4–1 success against the Maldives in 2012. On 22 October 2012, Costa was appointed manager of Iran’s women national side. She came up short of achieving her ultimate goal of helping them reaching the finals of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, but still left them in a much better position than they were before she joined them.
Costa also worked for Celtic as a scout in Spain and Portugal. As the news of her appointment broke, the Scottish league giant commented, “We would like to congratulate Helena sincerely on taking up this new role. She did an excellent job for us, and we know she will give her new position the same high level of commitment and dedication which she gave to Celtic.”
France’s women’s coach, Bruno Bini said, “Competence should always come before gender”, before adding, “I’m surprised by the name, but not by the fact a woman can coach, besides, I don’t see why a woman can’t coach a team in division two or division one.”
Politicians also made reference to the appointment of Costa. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem — the French minister of women’s rights and of youth and sport, tweeted, “Bravo to Clermont Foot for understanding that giving women their place is the future of professional football”.
FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, also wrote on the social media site “Great news for women in football today.”
On making the announcement, Clermont president Claude Michy played down the significance of the appointment. “You have to look at things the right way. There are women in F1 (Formula One) and also in politics. When you take up a sport, the objective is to do as well as possible.”
Given what Clermont Foot said in their statement, Costa will also play an integral role in helping to develop the club’s youth team players as their bright new dawn is set to begin.
More importantly, the players that Costa will be working with are buying into the fact that next season they will all be heading into uncharted waters together. Clermont striker Remy Dugimont is looking forward to the new era. “I’m not macho. She has worked in the profession and all the boys know how it works. At first it will be a little weird, but it will only last a few days. We don’t not know how it will happen, but if the president has chosen to bring her, we hope it will be okay and I think there are no problems.”
It was a view shared by team-mate Anthony Lippini, “I spoke with the physio (also female) and we spoke about the first time a woman entered the army…a very macho environment,” he said. “Now there are many women in the army, and it may be the same in football. I cannot wait for next season to discover. I’m really curious.”
Costa herself seems happy to embrace the attention. “I always dreamed of this. I coached boys and men for a long time in Portugal, and I have had this as my target and my objective.”
While the eyes will still be on the top leagues in Europe, you can be sure that – come the start of the new season – people will also be checking out the results in the French Ligue 2.