Female football coach

Sabrina Wittmann Makes History as First Female Manager in Elite Men’s Football in Germany

There has been a sea-change, for many, in how football fans perceive their team’s head coach or manager. Once upon a time, supporters were blinded by the notion that their manager had to have enjoyed a fine career as a player – somehow that gave them more credence as a decision-maker and tactician. However, the failure of some high-profile former players as coaches – and the success of the likes of José Mourinho and Jürgen Klopp, who did not have decorated playing careers – has caused a paradigm shift.

Although some old-fashioned views still remain in football, many are now attuned to the idea that their head coach should have a clear identity and philosophy for their style of play, tactical acumen and an ability to get the very best out of each player with tailored man management.

None of that is guaranteed just because you were a successful player with trophies and international caps to spare. It has taken longer for men’s football to cotton on to the possibilities of appointing a female head coach, although the ultra-successful Emma Hayes has previously been linked with a number of such jobs. Forest Green, meanwhile, announced Hannah Dingley as their caretaker manager after sacking Duncan Ferguson in 2023. But it’s a German side that has truly gone against the grain – Ingolstadt, who play their trade in the third-tier in Germany – the first in the country to announce a permanent female head coach.

Full Time Basis

Germany has often be the ceiling-smasher when it comes to female coaches, with Marie-Louise Eta the first woman to be appointed as an assistant coach at a club in a ‘big five’ league. She has taken her seat in the dugout at Union Berlin, who in 2023/24 enjoyed their first season in the Champions League in the club’s history.

Others have worked as head coaches in the lower reaches of the German game, but Sabrina Wittmann – who was appointed Ingolstadt manager in June 2024 – is the first to be handed the reins of a professional club in the top-three tiers. She had been appointed as interim head coach at the tailend of the 2023/24 campaign, where she presided over a four-game unbeaten streak that included a 6-1 demolition of VFB Lubeck.

So impressed was the club’s hierarchy that they handed her the job on a permanent basis – the first female coach to manage an elite-level side. “When I took over the first team in May on an interim basis, I had hoped that it wouldn’t just be a short adventure,” Wittmann said. “With every moment that I spent with the team after that, my wish to be allowed to stay long-term in this position grew stronger.”

Pushing Boundaries

While Wittmann has smashed the glass ceiling as the first female head coach in elite German football, others have blazed the trail she is now treading before.

Carolina Morace

Carolina Morace
Carolina Morace (Footballfanfootballfan / Wikipedia.org)

Carolina Morace was the first female manager to coach a men’s professional team. She took the reins at Italian Serie C outfit Viterbese in June 1999 after completing her UEFA Pro Licence qualification. The appointment was met with a mix of acclaim and astonishment at a time when men’s football was not, broadly speaking, known for its progressive outlook. However, Morace would later resign after just two games in charge – the president of Viterbese taking it upon himself to declare the backroom staff that his head coach should appoint, which naturally did not go down well with Morace.

After that harrowing experience, she went on to coach the women’s international teams for Italy, Canada and Trinidad & Tobago, as well as a spell in charge at English club side London City Lionesses. Morace also hit the headlines in 2018, criticising the Football Association when they gave the England Lionesses job to Phil Neville over a female candidate.

Helena Costa

Helena Costa
Helena Costa (Doha Stadium Plus Qatar / Wikipedia.org)

Helena Costa took the baton and ran with it when she was appointed head coach of a second-tier club in elite men’s football in 2014 – Clermont Foot handing the Portuguese a permanent contract to guide them out of France’s Ligue 2. Unfortunately, she experienced many of the same issues as Morace had before her, lashing out at Clermont’s hierarchy for their ‘lack of respect’ – according to Costa, they signed a number of players without her consent or approval. She resigned after barely a month in charge.

“There were a series of events that no trainer would tolerate and a total lack of respect as well as amateurism,” she would later reveal. Her journey to coaching a men’s team was a fascinating one, as she did not have a playing career of any great note – instead concentrating her efforts on the coach’s role via a sports science degree and UEFA coaching badges. She managed Benfica men’s youth team, and has held other posts in men’s football including stints as scout for Celtic, Frankfurt and Watford.

Corinne Diacre

Perhaps to prove a point, Clermont Foot replaced Costa with another female head coach – Corinne Diacre. She had enjoyed a stellar playing career in France, before becoming the first female to manage a second-tier game – Costa had only coached Clermont during the off-season – when taking to the touchline in August 2014. This time, the appointment was more of a long-term success. Diacre stayed in charge at Clermont for three seasons – a reasonably-lengthy tenure by the standards of modern football, before leaving to take up the role of head coach for the French women’s national team.

Hannah Dingley

At the time of writing, English football awaits its first permanent female head coach. Hannah Dingley was the first, as mentioned, although her short interim spell in charge at Forest Green Rovers only involved managing the side in pre-season friendlies. But she has since returned to managing the club’s academy, and with a long history of coaching in men’s football at professional clubs, it’s quite possible that Dingley will be the first female to be appointed as manager of a men’s pro team.