Renate Blindheim breaks new ground for female football coaches in Norway
The 30-year-old has become the first woman to coach a professional men's football team in Norway, and her first game in charge caused a major shock.
Renate Blindheim is making history, while also breathing new life into Norwegian football.
On June 19, the 26-year-old became the first woman to coach in the Norwegian men’s top two divisions, when she took the reigns of Sotra for the first time.
On top of shouldering the extra attention surrounding her age and this significant progression for female coaching in the country, Blindheim had to figure out how to arrest the team’s poor form and ensure that they shed their relegation favourites tag.
Having ended the 2019 season languishing in ninth position, without a win in eleven matches, something bold needed to happen. And it did.
With six debutants named on Blindheim’s first team sheet, Sotra came from behind to secure a 3-2 away victory against Fram. It was a dream new start that symbolised both excitement and hope.
A new dawn perhaps for Norwegian football and for Sotra, who recruited their new coach on the basis of coaching credentials, not gender, and reaped the reward.
The first women to coach professional men's football teams
While Blindheim’s appointment in professional men's football is not a first for women in football, most of her predecessors began in far lower leagues than the second division.
The first woman ever to coach a professional men’s team is Italian Carolina Morace.
The former star striker became Serie C1 side Viterbese’s coach in 1999, but resigned after just two matches due to the President’s interference with the team’s technical staff.
She went on to have a fruitful coaching career including stints in charge of the Italian and Canadian women’s national teams, while she started her own coaching academy, and is the only female TV analyst for men's Serie A football in Italy.
In 2014, Portugese coach Helena Costa became French men’s football’s first female boss at Ligue 2’s Clermont Foot 63.
But the former mentee of compatriot Jose Mourinho at Premier League side Chelsea quit before she was able to lead the team in a match, citing the club’s supposed unprofessional attitude in signing players and organising matches without her consent. She was replaced by another woman in Corinne Diacre.
But 2014 was more successful for the UK’s first female boss in men’s senior football Shelley Kerr, who was appointed as manager of Scottish Lowland Football League team Stirling University.
She led her charges consistently to the top-five in her three years there, before taking the Scotland women’s national team job in 2017.
German men’s professional football received its first female coach in 2018, when Imke Wubbenhorst was appointed to fifth-tier team BV Cloppenburg. The then 28-year-old reportedly had to deal with discriminatory behaviour from one of her assistant coaches, as well as occasional improper questions from German media.
Perhaps the biggest achievement is that of Chan Yuen-ting, who at 27 became the first woman ever to lead a men’s team to a top-flight championship, when Eastern won the Hong Kong Premier League in 2016.
A year later she became the first woman to coach a male football club in a top-flight continental competition when she managed Eastern against Chinese giants Guangzhou Evergrande in the AFC Champions League.
The future looks bright for women's coaching in Norway
Football is the most popular sport for women in Norway.
Despite taking longer than some other nations to appoint its first female coach in the senior men's ranks, the Scandinavian nation are intent on making up for lost time.
The Norwegian Football Association is encouraging more girls to take up coaching positions in football, and ensuring that those who choose to follow that path are adequately supported.
But with a rapidly-accelerating number of female coaches like Blindheim commencing their UEFA coaching license course (a prerequisite to coach in most top leagues), that could well be changing in the coming years.