“Look at me as normal coach” says Clermont manager Helena Costa

Helena Costa spent an hour talking about her landmark job as France's first ever professional female manager for a male team last Thursday (22 May) but her message was simple and succinct.

"Look at me as normal coach," said the 36-year-old as she was unveiled by second-tier side Clermont Foot.

Costa is the first female to be given the head job in the top two divisions of one of Europe's big five leagues, including Spain, Germany, England, Italy and France.

More than 100 journalists, as well as some of the club's players, assembled at the Clermont stadium to meet the Portuguese who is hoping her appointment will inspire other female coaches.

"I know it's a big step," said Costa, who left her role as coach of the Iranian national women's team to accept the position with Clermont.

"I know because I had a career before in a man's world mainly, so I know it's an important day and it can open other doors, or not.

"I understand your surprise and the quantity of press and the impact but, we are in 2014, it should be a normal thing."

Costa, a sports science graduate, has been rewarded following her work with the Iran and Qatar women's national teams.

She also led Benfica's male youth team to two World Youth titles and spent time as a scout with Scottish club Celtic.

Her reputation has even spawned the nickname "Mourinho in a skirt" in her home country, a reference to Portugal's most high-profile football manager, Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.

The football season has just finished in France and Clermont Foot finished 14th in Ligue 2 but Costa already has big plans for her first season in charge.

"I think that as in all leagues, if a club doesn't have a huge budget that doesn't mean that the players should not be ambitious and committed," she said.

"Between the team we will define our objectives but winning is the common word that we are going to speak. I'm here to win.

"I'm a demanding person with myself and my team, but especially with myself."

Costa will find herself under extra external scrutiny too as the highest profile female coach of a male professional football team in Europe.

"I am not afraid." stressed the 36-year-old.

“If I didn't think the players would accept me, and if I didn't believe in my work, I wouldn't be here.”

Costa is also pushing boundaries in France where match official Nelly Viennot previously broke new ground as an assistant referee, also featuring in Champions League games.

Sexist society

French football writer Caroline Bauer told CNN World Sport that Costa's appointment was something of a shock.

"French society is a little bit sexist in sport, really sexist," she said. "So it was a big surprise and a lot of people said it was a bad idea.

"At first in France everybody thought that Clermont just wanted to create a buzz with the appointment.

"But then Helena Costa came to France two weeks ago and she spoke a lot to the French media and she explained who she was.

"Now we understand that she has a real project with Clermont and she wants to prove she can be a real coach like men."

Costa will get her first chance to prove herself when the new French soccer season begins late summer.

Clermont president Claude Michy dismissed suggestions that it was a publicity stunt.

“Despite all the interest that this appointment has generated, we will remain true to our values. We will not become superficial,” Michy added.

From CNN

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