Professional French soccer club hires first female manager

Second-division French club Clermont Foot announced on Wednesday that it has hired Helena Costa to become the outfit’s new manager, making her France’s first female coach of a men’s professional team. 

“It’s a historical day,” she told The New York Times. “And I think this is more than about Helena Costa as a football coach. I think it’s very good for all the women in sports, especially in football of course. It could have been someone else. And I hope this is only the first step. I opened a door today and more women will walk through on my back. That’s what I hope.”

The unconventional yet progressive move was buoyed by 36-year-old Costa’s extensive experience around the pitch.

Most recently, she was the coach of the women’s national teams from Qatar and Iran, and she’d also been a long-time scout for Celtic FC in Scotland. She cut her teeth coaching some of Benfica's youth teams, guiding them to several titles. Costa will take over at the end of the season, which ends later this month.

The news, unsurprisingly, drew an outpouring of reactions from various parties, including management and players.

“It’s surprising because in the world where there are lots of women in important positions, heads of government or team managers in Formula 1 or chief surgeons,” said Claude Michy, president of Clermont Foot. “But because it’s football – something global and still rather conservative – and a provincial French team hires a female coach, it creates a media earthquake.”

One defender, Emmanuel Imorou, had this to say of the team’s reaction to L'Equipe: “Obviously, we all had incredible expressions. Afterward we discussed it among ourselves. Some laughed; others a bit less.”

“Honestly it was cool. There was no big skepticism. We made some jokes. We wondered how she was going to handle a group of men, if she was going to be able to impose her authority.”

Sonia Souid, a female French soccer agent who’s very familiar with the club, was the initial connection to Costa. “I thought it was not fair [the lack of opportunity for women in pro sports] because there are lots of competent women, so I tried to make it happen. And I think it’s a great day for all women in sports.”

But forget about the implications for a moment. Has her prior experience adequately groomed her for the post?

“Professional football can have a lot of interferences, so it can be different because of that or more pressure because of that,” Costa noted. “But I’m ready. I sleep well with the pressure.” 

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