Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Changes are afoot for Clermont... Helen Costa prepares to make history in French Ligue 2 by becoming the first female to coach a professional men's team in France.

On June 1st 2014, Helena Costa, will become the Head Coach of Clermont Foot 63. Clermont are in France's Ligue 2 and finished their 2013/14 campaign in 14th place. The club do not have much in the way of honours, aside from most notably being promoted to Ligue 2 in 2002 and 2007 after winning the Championat de France National (France's Division 3 as it's also known). Costa will be taking over the role after ex-manager, Régis Brouard, decided to reject a contract extension and leave the club.

Costa has built up an impressive CV during her football career, with a masters degree in sports science and a UEFA A licence to add to her vast coaching experience. From 1997-2010, in her native of Portugal, she coached Benfica's youth team and led them to two World Youth titles. During 2005-06, she managed lower league men's side Cheleirense, then went on to coach women's side S.I. 1°Dezembro in 2006-08, winning two league titles with the club. Costa then spent a season at Odivelas F.C. guiding the team to promotion after becoming league champions. Her most recent managerial spells have come with Iran's national women's team from 2012-14, after two years previously at Qatar. Costa has also been a scout for Celtic FC in Portugal and Spain, during 2008-11.

A New Era
On May 7th 2014, Clermont released a press statement:

"This appointment will allow Clermont Foot 63 to go into a new era. Relying on a group of 17 players currently under contract, which will be added with younger players from the club."

Club chairman-Claude Michy, who was born in the town of Clermon-Ferrand, has expressed his delight in the appointment. In an interview with French newspaper, L'Equipe, Michy says: 
"Everyone wants to look for reasons, but I am basic, I do things on instinct. It has been this case with Helena."  He continued: "The world is changing everyday, I can be part of those who allow it to evolve...I feel a little pride to be the first to take that risk. The sun will always rise on the same side tomorrow."

Many players, coaches and fans across the world have taken to social media and press interviews to share their support of Costa. Gaëtane Thiney, who plays midfiled for the French national women's team, told L'Equipe: "I'm glad to see a woman come into the environment as difficult as coaching. But we must not talk gender, but skills. if she has the qualifications and skills, there is no reason why this is not possible. Level thinking is important."

Gender Stereotype
Helena Costa is dubbed in her home country as 'Mourinho in a skirt', which unfortunately isn't as flattering as it first seems. To be likened to Mourinho is indeed a great compliment itself, however to feminize the phrase is unnecessary.  But unfortunately for women in the football industry, as Costa will have already and no doubt further experience, gender stereotyping is a common place. Guardian columist, Anna Kessel (who co-founded the networking group 'Women In Football'), suggests Costa will have to be more tactical when dealing with issues off the playing field. She is a female icon already, all eyes will no doubt be watching her and scrutinizing her every move. It's almost inevitable that the moment Clermont lose a game, her ability as a manager in the "men's game" will be called into question. The sexist comments in response to Kessel's article are just a glimpse into the reality for so many women on a day-to-day basis. Women working in all sectors of the industry, such as Karren Brady (West Ham Vice-Chairman), Jacqui Oatley (Sports Broadcaster), Sian Massey (Assistant Referee), have all been dragged into taloid headlines for the wrong reasons in recent years. 

History In The Making
Costa will be aware of any possible stereotyping as she has coached boys teams at Benfica and also men's teams at Portugal's regional level, although it's her experience that has cearly proved to be vital in being offered the new role at Clermont. 

"It becomes very hard when you try something and you work so much, and you can't reach the objective just because you're a woman. That drives me crazy."

She hopes other women will follow in her footsteps in an interview with The New York Times, Costa said: "It's a historical day.....I hope this is only the first step. I opened a door today and more women will walk through my back. That's what I hope." She further added: "I always dreamed of this.....I have had this as my target and my objective. It was nothing new, but I knew it was almost impossible to get it and reach it."

From past interviews and press articles, it's apparent that Costa is a strong individual and very driven in her aspirations within football. Only time will tell whether she will lead Clermont to future success, however let it be her performance on the touchline that receives media attention, rather than her gender.