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10 Premier League managers ranked as players

Jurgen Klopp played for Mainz 05 for over a decade
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Tina Kaviraj

Being a great football player doesn’t necessarily guarantee one to become a good manager and vice-versa. Diego Maradona will always be one of the greatest players to have ever graced a football pitch but he will also be remembered for being a less-than-average manager. The opposite was true of Sir Alex Ferguson – while he is one of the most revered managers in the game, he isn’t regarded as one of the greats in Scottish football history.

Clearly, being a player and manager requires a very different set of skills and nowhere is it as glaringly apparent as the Premier League. While some were talented players who have gone on to managerial success, there are those like Jose Mourinho whose playing career was brief and not at the highest level.

Here’s a look at 10 Premier League managers and how they rank as players in their time:


#10 Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)

Jurgen Klopp tried his hand at being a professional football player at a number of German clubs before signing for Mainz 05 in 1990. He spent most of his career there, spending 11 years at the club where he started off as a striker but started playing in the backline by 1995. He scored a total of 52 league goals for his side and went on to manage the club for seven years after his retirement.

Soon after his move to Liverpool in 2016, Klopp spoke about his talents as a footballer on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football. He said, “I was very average. I was really quick and a good header but that was it. Unfortunately, the ball spent most of the time on the ground and that was not my biggest strength.”

The former Borussia Dortmund manager explained, “I loved the game too much to stop playing, which would not have been too bad for most of my teams I played in. I enjoyed playing very much but I was not very good - that's how it is.”

#9 Eddie Howe (Bournemouth)

Eddie Howe spent most of his playing career with Bournemouth

Eddie Howe has become one of the most sought-after managers in the English game with rumours of the English national team and even Arsenal being interested in his services. Appointed to the helm of Bournemouth in 2008 to become the youngest manager in the Football League, Howe suffered a heartbreaking end to his playing career back in the day.

A promising central defender for the Cherries who made his debut for the club in 1994, he made two competitive appearances for the England U-21 side before being lured away by Harry Redknapp to Portsmouth.

Unfortunately for him, he suffered a knee injury that he could never quite shrug off and called it a day on his playing career five years later when he was just 29. He took over as Bournemouth’s manager in 2008 and a brief spell at Burnley followed, before returning to the Cherris in 2012.

#8 Claude Puel (Southampton)

Unfamiliar to English audiences, Claude Puel continues to be a legend in French territories

Claude Puel’s managerial stint with Southampton is his first foray outside his home country of France. Signed by Monaco as a youth player in 1976, he made his debut for the senior side three years later. Puel would go on to become the quintessential one-club man spending an astounding 17 years as a player with the French side.

Playing as a defensive midfielder, he only scored four career goals but then that’s not what his job was about.

The former Nice manager made 601 official appearances for the side and won two league titles and three domestic cups during that time. Puel retired in 1996 only to remain in a coaching role with the side.

#7 Aitor Karanka (Middlesbrough)

Aitor Karanka won a Champions League medal with Real Madrid

Nurtured in the heart of Basque Country, Aitor Karanka played for Athletic Bilbao before making his big move to the capital to play for Real Madrid in 1997. Signed for his solid defending, the Spaniard spent five years with the European giants during which he won a league title and three Champions Leagues, among a few others trophies.

While he was a backup for the side for most of that time, he did play alongside the likes of Ivan Helguera and Fernando Hierro and displayed some great aerial ability as a defender. The defender eventually left the club and headed back to Athletic Bilbao before playing briefly in the Major Soccer League for Colorado Rapids.

#6 Slaven Bilic (West Ham United)

Slaven Bilic returned to former club West Ham United as manager in 2015

Another one of Harry Redknapp’s recruits, Slaven Bilic was discovered while playing for his hometown club Hajduk Split in Croatia. Signed for a record club fee then, the defender was offered a move away from the club when they were threatened with relegation but insisted on staying on and helping them survive the drop.

The Hammers came 14th that season, well above the danger zone and the Croatian made the move to Everton the following season.

However, the greatest achievement of his career was his country’s qualification to the semi-final of the 1998 FIFA World Cup where they suffered defeat at the hands of the French. Bilic famously simulated an injury to his head that saw Laurent Blanc sent off and suspended from participating in the final.

Even though the Croatians fell short of reaching the final, they came third after beating the Netherlands, a superb achievement.

#5 Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham Hotspur)

Mauricio Pochettino famously fouled Michael Owens during the 2002 FIFA World Cup

Mauricio Pochettino was scouted by Marcelo Bielsa when he was just a 14-year-old and moved to Newell’s Old Boys in 1987. Making his senior debut just a year later, the defender won his first league title with the side in 1990-91. Even though Newell’s couldn’t win the Primera Division Argentina the following year, they did win the Clausura, that is, the second half of the regular season which is usually differentiated from the first in South American football.

The Argentine moved to Espanyol when the side was promoted to the Spanish La Liga and though he couldn’t win the league there, he did help his team to a Copa del Rey victory in 2000 and then later when he returned to the side in 2006. Pochettino then made a move to France, playing for Paris Saint-Germain and Bordeaux, before a return back to Spain to play for Espanyol.

Known for his solid defending acumen, Pochettino is also remembered for fouling Michael Owen inside the box during the 2002 World Cup. David Beckham stepped up to the spot to score the solitary goal of the match.

#4 Antonio Conte (Chelsea)

Antonio Conte won five Italian league titles with Juventus as a player

Antonio Conte was truly one of the best midfielders of his generation in Italy. Versatile and tactical, the Italian stood out for his intelligent game sense and was quite the goalscorer when the occasion called for it. Starting out at his hometown club of Lecce, he made his debut in the Serie A when he was just 16 and it wasn’t long before he was scooped up by Juventus.

He became an integral part of the Bianconeri and even captained the team for a considerable period of time. The current Chelsea manager won five Scudettos with the side and even a Champions League. He also received three runners-up medals in the competition after Juventus failed to clinch the final victory in 1997, 1998 and 2003 not to mention his countless other trophies both in Italy and Europe.

The former Juventus boss also represented his country in the 1994 World Cup and the 2000 European Championship but saw his time with the national squad cut short because of injuries.

#3 Mark Hughes (Stoke City)

Mark Hughes was a prolific goalscorer during both his stints with Manchester United

Mark Hughes had a great start to his career after he was spotted by scouts from Manchester United. Playing with the Red Devils for six years, he transformed into a prolific goalscorer, which meant that his sale to Barcelona in 1986 was quite a shock for the United faithful.

He couldn’t quite emulate the success of Gary Lineker with Catalan club and was soon shipped off on loan to Bayern Munich before he made a return to Old Trafford in 1988.

Hughes put on his scoring boots for the Red Devils again and had a stellar seven years under Sir Alex Ferguson’s tutelage. He won two Premier League titles and three FA Cups during his second tenure at the club among a handful of other trophies. He moved on to Chelsea in 1995 and became an integral part of the side’s rise to the top of the heap towards the later half of the decade.

The former Stoke City manager went on to play for Southampton, Everton and Blackburn Rovers before he finally called it quits just at 39.

#2 Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)

Pep Guardiola was trained in the famed La Masia academy

Pep Guardiola comes from great footballing pedigree as he was an integral part of Johann Cruff’s ‘Dream Team’ at Barcelona. One of the most influential players of his generation, he had the uncanny vision of a playmaker for a defensive midfielder. Rising through the ranks of La Masia he became a pivotal figure in Cruyff’s starting lineup when he was just 20.

The Spaniard won six league titles with the side and two King’s Cups and a European Cup in the 11 years he spent with the senior team. He then moved to Italy to play for Brescia and Roma before short stints in Qatar and Mexico finally retiring in 2006.

Guardiola made 47 appearances for the Spanish national squad winning an Olympic Gold in 1992 and turned out for Catalonia for a handful of friendly games.

#1 Ronald Koeman (Everton)

Ronald Koeman followed Johann Cruyff to Barcelona

Ronald Koeman was arguably the best player of the current bunch of Premier League managers. Son of Dutch footballer Martin Koeman, Ronald was a sweeper in the heart of the defence. He could defend, dictate play from the heart of midfield, score the occasional spectacular goal and shoot accurately from the spot. The former Southampton manager started his career at Groningen, his father’s former club before playing for the country’s ‘Big Three’ football clubs.

He played for a brief time at Ajax under Cruyff before making a controversial move to PSV Eindhoven, also earning a call-up to the national side then. Koeman eventually moved to Barcelona in 1989, reuniting with Cruyff as part of his ‘Dream Team’ alongside Guardiola. While his trophy count in Spain is similar to Pep’s, he has many more from his time in the Netherlands, especially a European Cup victory with PSV in 1988.

Koeman is famously remembered for his part in Netherland’s only major victory on the international stage when they won the 1988 European Championship. He also holds the record for the most goals scored by a defender. He is Barcelona’s all-time highest scoring defender with 90 goals and is second only to Lionel Messi when it comes to goals scored from free kicks with 26.

Edited by Staff Editor
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