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5 active football managers who never played professionally

  • A look at 5 football managers who have been successful despite never playing the game professionally.
  • A few of them have won titles in Europe's Top 5 football leagues.
Rupam Nag
ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 04 May 2020, 12:07 IST

Maurizio Sarri is one of the active football managers who never played professional football.
Maurizio Sarri is one of the active football managers who never played professional football.

Many top-level football managers have had fabulous playing careers. Their experiences of playing at the highest levels of club and international football greatly aid them in managing football teams after their playing careers are over.

The dressing room atmosphere, on-pitch feeling in big games and first-hand knowledge of what a footballer goes through gives them an edge over ones who lack this experience. The level at which a manager has played football previously may vary from individual to individual.

The likes of Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane played at the absolute zenith of European football. The duo are the only ones to win the Champions League as both player and manager.

Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino enjoyed fairly respectable playing careers in football despite never winning the Champions League. A few others like Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho played professional football but in the lower tiers.

Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane have won the Champions League as both player and manager.
Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane have won the Champions League as both player and manager.

It is not every day that one comes across established, big-name managers who never played football professionally. Most football managers do have some professional experience, even if it's too short to help them in their managerial careers significantly.

However, there is always an odd manager or two who never played the game professionally but succeeded in being a reputed and successful manager. On that note, let us take a look at five such individuals.

Remember, only active football managers have been considered. So you won't find someone like an Arrigo Sacchi here!


Five active managers who never played professional football


#5 Andre Villas-Boas (Portugal)

Andre Villas-Boas is still only 42.
Andre Villas-Boas is still only 42.
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Notable Teams Managed: Porto, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Zenit, Marseille.

The original wonder-kid in the world of management, Andre Villas-Boas' road to management is quite beautiful.

A 16-year-old Villas-Boas happened to live in the same apartment block as did then Porto manager Sir Bobby Robson. The young Portuguese had an impressive idea about football, which Sir Robson soon found out following several conversations.

Villas-Boas was later appointed to Porto's observation department, and arrangements were made for him to get the FA coaching badges. Villas-Boas received his A license when he was only 19. His football management journey began as an assistant under Jose Mourinho in Porto when the younger Portuguese was just 21.

Andre Villas-Boas lived up to his initial hype, winning the treble of Primeira Liga, Portuguese Cup and Europa League in his first season with Porto in 2010-11.

Understandably, the youngest ever manager to win a European trophy had outgrown the level the Portuguese league had to offer. Villas-Boas moved on to the Premier League with Chelsea. However, English football did not welcome him kindly as a string of poor results forced Chelsea to sack him before the end of the season. Villas-Boas failed to find any success with Tottenham Hotspur either.

Thankfully, he redeemed himself in his stint with Zenit St. Petersburg and then Shanghai SIPG. Villas-Boas is now enjoying success with Marseille, who are second in the Ligue 1 this season.


#4 Leonardo Jardim (Portugal)

Leonardo Jardim led Monaco to the Champions League semi-finals.
Leonardo Jardim led Monaco to the Champions League semi-finals.

Notable Teams Managed: Braga, Olympiacos, Sporting CP, Monaco.

Similar to Andre Villas-Boas, Leonardo Jardim started his coaching career young, at only 27.

Perhaps the only criticism in his early days as head coach was the fact that he never lasted long enough at a football club to create a dynasty, despite exceeding expectations almost everywhere he went.

Jardim spent a season each at Braga, Olympiacos and finally at Sporting CP. In each of these seasons, he did an excellent job and improved all three teams considerably, before leaving due to one unforeseeable circumstance or the other.

He found some stability in his next job as boss of AS Monaco. Jardim led the Ligue 1 football team to consecutive third-place finishes. Under his able tutelage, Monaco then went two steps further to usurp PSG from the summit of Ligue 1 in 2016-17.

That same season, Jardim took Monaco to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League. The Principality team immensely benefitted from the rise of the mercurial Kylian Mbappe and the experience of Radamel Falcao.

Sadly, after a disappointing start to the 2018-19 season, Jardim was relieved of his duties. Following no improvement under new coach Thierry Henry, Jardim was recalled but his second tenure at the helm of Monaco lasted less than a year.

The Portuguese manager is now out of contract, but surely it won't be long before a top football club comes calling. After all, Jardim's performances speak for themselves.


#3 Maurizio Sarri (Italy)

Sarri is back where he belongs - Italian football.
Sarri is back where he belongs - Italian football.

Notable Teams Managed: Napoli, Chelsea, Juventus.

A young Maurizio Sarri did try his best to have a career as a professional football player. But he did not manage to graduate beyond amateur level while also working as a banker. Injuries then cut short his aspirations of becoming a professional footballer.

However, the man wouldn't be denied a shot at a career in football. A 30-year-old Sarri became one of the youngest football managers when he took charge of USD Stia 1925 in the eighth tier of Italian football. However, he had to wait 22 long years for his first big break.

It came in 2012 when Sarri was entrusted the responsibility of taking Serie B club Empoli to the top tier. After losing in the promotion playoffs in his first season, Empoli gained automatic promotion in 2013-14. In 2015, Sarri experienced his first taste of significant fame when he was appointed manager of one of Italy's biggest football clubs - SSC Napoli.

The Italian is credited with helping likes of players like Dries Mertens and Allan reach heights they weren't expected to. Sarri also got Napoli to play a refreshing brand of attacking football that was appreciated by fans around the globe. However, trophies eluded him.

Sarri left Napoli for Chelsea in 2018-19. Although he wasn't exactly a fan-favourite in London, he did bring the club a UEFA Europa League trophy - his first title as a football manager.

The Italian moved to Juventus at the start of the 2019-20 season where his team is in contention for a treble.


#2 Brendan Rodgers (Northern Ireland)

Rodgers has had great success with Leicester City.
Rodgers has had great success with Leicester City.

Notable Teams Managed: Watford, Swansea, Liverpool, Celtic, Leicester City.

Truth be told, if luck hadn't ghosted Rodgers, he would probably have had a professional football career. He was signed by Reading at the age of 18, but a genetic knee condition forced him to retire at the young age 20.

Rodgers was invited by Jose Mourinho to join Chelsea as a youth coach in 2004 and then went on to become the reserve manager of the club two years later. The Northern Irishman's first job as head coach was at Watford in 2008 before moving to Reading.

In a successful two year spell at Swansea, Rodgers helped the club to play become the first one from Wales to play in the Premier League. It was at Liverpool in 2012 where Rodgers shot to fame. He came agonisingly close to masterminding a Premier League title in 2013-14 before Manchester City usurped the Anfield club. Rodgers was then sacked by Liverpool in 2015.

The next year, Rodgers was appointed as the manager of Celtic. Under the Northern Irishman's tutelage, the Glasgow club did not lose in the league all season as they lifted the Scottish Premiership title.

After winning everything there was to achieve in Scottish football, Rodgers returned to England to take charge of Leicester City in 2019. The 2015-16 Premier League winners have since played some brilliant football this season, thereby establishing themselves as one of the best EPL clubs outside the 'Big 6'.


#1 Julian Nagelsmann (Germany)

Julian Nagelsmann
Julian Nagelsmann

Notable Teams Managed: Hoffenheim, RB Leipzig.

Julian Nagelsmann is another manager who did not have a playing career owing to injuries. Nagelsmann took up Business Administration and Sports Science before moving into coaching soon after, working with Thomas Tuchel at Augsburg.

Aged 28 his first football job as head-coach was with Hoffenheim in October 2015, in the process becoming the youngest manager in Bundesliga history.

Hoffenheim were languishing in 17th place, seven points from safety, but Nagelsmann drastically changed the club's fortunes and secured another season in the Bundesliga. This was to prove vital, as the next season saw Hoffenheim qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in the club's history.

Nagelsmann then moved to RB Leipzig in the 2019-20 season. Continuing to play a breathtaking brand of attacking football, the young manager's team swept away most opponents with ease. Nagelsmann then became the youngest manager in Champions League history to win a knockout tie when Leipzig dismantled Tottenham Hotspur 4-0 in the Round of 16.

It is quite riveting to realise that Nagelsmann is still only 32, and is one of the hottest prospects in management right now.

If he continues to progress at this rate, Nagelsmann is certain to be one of the best football managers of this generation.


Published 04 May 2020, 12:07 IST
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