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Coaching remains a man's world but there are women striving to change that

Football coaches resign all the time, so we shouldn't be too bothered when another one bites the dust, should we?

Helena Costa criticised Clermont Foot 63 after serving just  49 days as head coach. Picture: EPA
Helena Costa criticised Clermont Foot 63 after serving just 49 days as head coach. Picture: EPA

Well, in the case of Helena Costa, who last week resigned from her post as manager of the French second division football team, Clermont Foot 63, we should be concerned. Costa hit the headlines in May when she became the highest profile woman to be appointed head coach of a men's football team. Observers welcomed her appointment, declaring that this signalled a significant move forward in terms of equality for women within football, one of the most male-dominated sports out there.

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It is not so much Costa's resignation just 49 days after being given the job that should be viewed with alarm, although her reasons for walking away, if proved to be true, surely highlight significant problems within the club. Rather, it was the treatment she received and which prompted her to quit her job that highlights just how far sport has to go before women are viewed as true equals to men. Costa claimed that she had been sidelined, with players being signed behind her back, matches arranged without her say-so and her emails to the management completely ignored. She also referred to the "total lack of respect as well as amateurism" with which she had been treated.

Claude Michy, the club president, has his own opinion on why Costa resigned after such a short tenure. "She takes her secret with her. She is a woman," he said. "They are capable of leading us to believe in certain things."

Eh? Surely, in this day and age, this is not an acceptable explanation of an employee leaving a post, and a high-profile one at that? Surely Michy does not expect anyone to believe that women are these emotional, mysterious creatures who make decisions for no other reason than that they are women, and that they can. Get a grip. Costa is an experienced, respected football coach who has reached this point in her career without her female hormones playing havoc with her decision-making.

There was, in some quarters, a similar sense of bewilderment when Andy Murray announced that Amelie Mauresmo was to become his new coach. There were far fewer questions about her coaching credentials than there were about her gender. That she is a double grand slam champion and former world No.1 - a ranking position that Murray has yet to occupy - seemed of far less concern to the wider world than the fact that she is a woman. It was queried just how she would be able to understand the tactics of the men's game, these questioners overlooking the fact she has eyes and a brain despite being a woman.

It was also asked how she would be able to carry out her coaching duties when she would not be able to enter the men's changing room prior to Murray's matches. That practically the entire coaching presence on the women's tour is male has never been deemed worthy of a mention, yet Mauresmo being unable to follow Murray into the men's dressing area has been mooted as a make-or-break issue. The Scot had been doing just fine up until the quarter-finals of Wimbledon and there is little evidence that the appointment of Mauresmo precipitated his exit.

That the attitudes towards women holding high-profile coaching positions remain so archaic is something of a peculiarity. Karren Brady, who 21 years ago became managing director of Birmingham City, was among the first women to hold such a position.

She recalls meeting the squad on her first match day and one of the players remarking: "I can see your t**s in that top." To which, she replied: "Well, don't worry, when I sell you to Crewe, you won't be able to see them from there." She did sell him, and Brady has gone on to enjoy a remarkably successful career in football.

However, she remains in the minority. Women coaches are far outnumbered by men at all levels and the reason this is a problem is that a greater female coaching presence would be likely to attract more girls into sport. There is little doubt that women have a number of attributes which would be useful in coaching and with the appointment of Mauresmo, Murray has made a significant statement to the world about the potential benefits of having a woman coach.

Similarly, Costa's replacement at Clermont Foot 63 is another woman, Corrine Diacre, so presuming she makes it to the start of the season without her female idiosyncrasies intervening, a woman may yet have the opportunity to break down some barriers in a male-dominated arena. If Mauresmo, Costa, Diacre and other women are successful, then it will begin to prove that women can be just as valuable in the coaching arena as men.

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