'Mourinho in a skirt' makes soccer history

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French second division club Clermont on Wednesday named Portugal's Helena Costa as coach, making her the highest-level woman running a men's team in a major European championship.

Costa, 36, is known in her home country as 'Mourinho in a skirt' and established her coaching reputation at the helm of the Qatar and Iran national women's teams.

She learned the managerial trade with Benfica in Portugal and has worked as a scout for top clubs such as Scottish champion Celtic.

"This nomination will allow Clermont Foot 63 to enter a new era," said a club statement announcing the appointment.

Clermont Foot is 14th in the French second division with two matches to play. Current coach Regis Brouard will leave at the end of this season.

Clermont president Claude Michy said he had wanted to make a "landmark" choice and that based on her CV, Costa should be coaching a Champions League team.

But he said he has already warned Costa that he is a "macho".

"It's the first thing I told her. The choice was complicated in my mind," Michy said.

"You can never tell what will happen, we will see. You have to act, it will liven up everyone's day.

"Football people are surprised but there are lots of women leaders in business and politics. In Germany the chancellor is a woman. You have to be provocative sometimes," said Michy, a businessman.

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 media pressure.

Vanessa Mangsen, 30, has been coach of Swedish fourth division side IFK Holmsund since February. The club announced on its Facebook page that it wanted a woman coach.

The historic move in naming a woman boss vaulted Clermont out of its relative obscurity.

"Bravo Clermont Foot for understanding that giving a place to women is the future of professional football," said 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.

Costa went on a coaching course at Chelsea in 2005 when compatriot Jose Mourinho was in charge. Since then, many in Portugal call Costa the 'Mourinho in a skirt'.

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 it 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.

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