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Helena Costa: The 1st Female Football Manager in French Football History

Ligue 2 side Clermont Foot announced this morning that they have agreed to appoint the Portuguese female Helena Costa as their new manager, effective from the beginning of the 2014/2015 season. 

In doing so, Clermont have made French footballing history. Helena Costa will become the first ever female manager in men’s French professional football. 

Costa, 36, came through the coaching ranks at Benfica before coaching women’s national teams including Qatar and Iran. She has also worked as a scout for Scottish giants Celtic, who took to Twitter today via their official account to congratulate her on her appointment. 

Clermont’s official statement read: 

“This appointment will allow Clermont Foot 63 to begin a new era, relying on a group of 17 players currently under contract, which will be added young players from the club.”

Many pundits have been quick to question Ligue 2 side Clermont’s true motives behind this appointment, with the club facing difficult financial circumstances and arguably having the need for publicity, with only 17 players on the books at the time of writing.

Helena Costa made her first comment on her appointment this evening to French radio station RTL where she had the following to say:

“Male or female, it doesn’t matter. Only competence counts. It is not the first time I will manage a male football team. I have already done this. For me, it is the same as managing women. Football is the same game. The aim is the same. It is courageous by Clermont and I thank the President for making this step. I am a manager that is very close to their players. It is very important for me to have a good relationship with my players. I hope all the Portuguese in Clermont come and support us (Clermont is has the second largest proportion of Portuguese people in France in terms of a town). I believe that everybody will work for the same objective. My message is I love victory.”

Clermont President Claude Michy had the following to add: 

“At the start, the aim was merely to find a new manager. We were informed of this possibility. It was an opportunity. It was a choice and a challenge. The first thing I said to Helena Costa was, I am ‘a macho’. There is no difference in risk in terms of taking a man or woman. The consequence of the choice is good.”

Clermont already have a female physiotherapist among their management staff but full-back Emmanuel Imorou’s comments to L’Equipe may not have encouraged Helena Costa: 

“When we were all informed, we were surprised. Some of us laughed, some of us not so much. Honestly, it was cool. There was not so much scepticism. We made some jokes, notably about whether she would have the authority.”

“Yes (we looked to see if she was pretty), we typed her name into Google, but only for a joke, nothing else. Personally, I want to say it will not change anything. But it will definitely change something. It is unusual.”

“Yes, it could cause a problem (male footballers accepting a woman’s decisions). Not for me, but for others yes. When I see the reaction of certain individuals on Twitter, I understand that not everybody sees eye-to-eye on this. But, we are not a nasty group of players.”

“If she does not get good results, people will say it was because she was a woman. If she gets good results, I think it will open up people’s eyes significantly.”

One thing is for certain, Clermont will be under a microscope, at least at the start of the 2014/2015 and that is no bad thing, neither for Ligue 2 nor for French football in general. The President’s attitude is one of opportunism in terms of potential publicity which perhaps raises questions regarding morality but on the other hand he has had the courage to make such a decision in the first place. If anything, he should be applauded. Whether or not this “experiment” is successful is another matter. As Imorou poignantly points out in his interview, if Costa fails, female football managers will likely be less well regarded in France than they were before. 

Helena Costa herself has similarly taken a courageous step in even accepting the role. The trials and tribulations she will face from the less accepting players and staff at Clermont must not be understated, but this paralleled with the patronising she will surely face from a largely male-dominated French football journalism industry will be equally, if not more, challenging from a psychological perspective. 

One feeling which cannot be denied however, is that this could open up a whole new dimension of equality in male football that can only be regarded with both excitement and anticipation. 

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