CLERMONT-FERRAND (AFP) - French second division club Clermont on Wednesday named Helena Costa as coach, making the Portuguese the highest-level woman in charge of a men's team in the major European championships.
Costa, 36, has been the coach of the women's national sides in Qatar and Iran. She learned the managerial trade with Benfica in Portugal. But Costa has also worked as a scout for Scottish champions Celtic and top clubs in Spain and Portugal.
"This nomination will allow Clermont Foot 63 to enter a new era," said a club statement announcing the appointment.
Clermont Foot are 14th in the French second division with two matches to play. Current coach Regis Brouard will leave at the end of this season and Costa will take over straight after, Clermond said.
Before Costa's appointment, Carolina Morace was the most notable woman coach in the key European leagues. Morace was manager at Italian Serie C1 side Viterbese for just two matches in 1999, quitting because of the media pressure.
The historic move in naming a woman boss vaulted Clermont out of their relative obscurity. "Bravo Clermont Foot for understanding that giving a place to women is the future of professional football," commented France's Women's Rights Minister Najat Belkacem on Twitter.
"We would like to congratulate Helena sincerely on taking up this new role," said a Celtic spokesperson. "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."
Clermont supporters were delighted by the move. "It suprised us when we read the club statement. But once we got over it we all believe that it is a good thing," said Veronique Soulier, president of the Clermont Foot Supporters Club. "The boys in the team can be difficult to manage. They can be quite sensitive, that is what the other coaches have told us. With a woman in charge maybe they will be less demanding," said Soulier, herself a rare woman head of a supporters' club in France.
Costa took her first Portuguese Football Federation coaching course at the age of 21, coming first out of 120 mainly male participants. She also has a Uefa coaching qualification and passed degrees in sports science. After helping Benfica's youth team to second place in the national championship in 2005 she was briefly coach at amateur side Cheleiros and guided them to the Lisbon regional championship.
Costa took over the Qatar women's team in 2010 and moved to Iran's women's side in 2012. She left Iran in September last year.