Woman boss not afraid of landmark challenge
Portugal's Helena Costa was unveiled as the new coach of French side Clermont on Thursday and insisted she was "not afraid" of becoming the first woman to take charge of a men's professional team in a leading European nation.
"I am not afraid. If I didn't think I was capable of this, I wouldn't be here," the 36-year-old Costa said at a news conference in the central French city of Clermont-Ferrand.
"If I didn't think the players would accept me, and if I didn't believe in my work, I wouldn't be here."
Clermont, who play in France's second tier, appointed Costa as coach earlier this month in a move that created headlines worldwide, including in the New York Times.
And Thursday's unveiling attracted journalists from many different countries.
"I understand your surprise, but we are in 2014! Look at me as a normal coach, not a woman who is a coach," Costa added.
Clermont are a modest club from a city where rugby dominates, and they came 14th in Ligue 2 in the season just finished, while playing to average crowds of less than 4,000.
Costa said that she should be judged like any other coach and would not last in the job if she failed to get results.
Clermont president Claude Michy has dismissed suggestions that his move for Costa was a publicity stint and said that he had "chosen a coach first and foremost, not a woman".
"Despite all the interest that this appointment has generated, we will remain true to our values. We will not become superficial," Michy added.
- Results business -
Fans of the club, who have never graced France's top flight, spoke positively of the appointment.
"It gets people talking about our club," said supporters group member Gerard Guardiola, while Veronique Soulier, the president of the same fans group, added that she hoped Costa would impose "a bit more authority" on the team.
The Clermont players are also eager to start working with Costa, who has a UEFA A coaching licence and a Masters degree in sports science.
However, young forward Idriss Saadi said: "Just as the experience will be good because she will bring something new to the world of football, so she might not get her message across because we have never seen a woman working as a coach."
Midfielder Hugo Videmont added: "We expect her to make us win matches and take us as high up the table as possible. That is what we expect from a coach and that is what a coach expects from players."
That view is shared by Costa, who was latterly working as a scout with Scottish giants Celtic.
"My objective is to win. If I don't get results, I will leave the club. That is what happens. Just because Clermont don't have an enormous budget it doesn't mean we can't be ambitious," said Costa, who has so far only met some of her players.
She previously worked as a youth coach at Lisbon giants Benfica before winning a regional league title with Portuguese amateur club Cheleirense.
Since then Costa has had spells coaching the women's teams of both Qatar and Iran.
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