5 great managers who had mediocre playing careers

Jose Mourinho is one of many managers who had mediocre playing careers.
Jose Mourinho is one of many managers who had mediocre playing careers.
Sanstab Das

It was a common perception that the best football coaches or managers are the ones who were the best footballers of their generation.

There has been a renaissance of that idea in recent times, with some of the top clubs headed by former greats such as Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Manchester United and Andrea Pirlo at Juventus, to name a few.

However, over the years, it has also been seen that a great footballer does not necessarily make a great manager. A case in point would be Chelsea legend Frank Lampard who failed to inspire his men to the heights he reached as a player.

Top five managers who had mediocre playing careers:

While a career in top-flight football provides an in-depth perspective of the game, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Likewise, there are many who are regarded as some of the finest managers in the game, despite having unremarkable careers as a player.

On that note, let's have a look at five great managers who had mediocre playing careers. Without further ado, let's get started.

#5 Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benitez
Rafael Benitez

Rafa Benitez has one of the most illustrious managerial resumes in world football. He has managed some of the top clubs in Europe, including Real Madrid, Liverpool, Inter Milan and Valencia, to name a few.

While he is best remembered for his Champions League triumph with Liverpool or winning two La Liga titles with unfancied Valencia, Benitez had an almost forgettable playing career. He had joined Real Madrid as a youth player, representing Real Madrid U17 and Real Madrid Castilla. But he never came close to breaking into the first team and eventually retired at 26.

His exploits at Liverpool and Valencia are the most talked about, but Benitez has also won the Italian Super Cup and Club World Cup titles with Inter Milan. The Spaniard also has a Europa League trophy with Chelsea and a Coppa Italia triumph with Napoli in his illustrious managerial career.

#4 Marcelo Bielsa

Marcelo Bielsa
Marcelo Bielsa

'El Loco', as he is endearingly called by South American fans, is one of the best footballing brains in the history of the game.

Regarded as a 'guru' and the best manager in the world by the likes of Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino, Bielsa had a rather unremarkable career as a professional footballer.

The Argentine started his professional career late - at the age of 22 - and had one that lasted for barely three years, encompassing 65 appearances. The current Leeds United manager joined Newell’s Old Boys as a youth player and made it to their first team but was moved on after just a year at the club.

However, Bielsa will forever remain endearing to the Old Boys faithful, as he led the Argentine club to two league titles and the final of the prestigious Copa Libertadores.

The Old Boys stadium is now named after Bielsa, who first introduced the 3-3-3-1 formation - the ideology of high-intensity pressing.

#3 Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger

One of the most successful managers in modern football, Arsene Wenger is best remembered for his presence in the dugout and not on the pitch. The 71-year won 11 titles in his first decade as Arsenal manager, including three Premier League triumphs.

The Frenchman always had a strong inclination towards the tactical and managerial side of the game ever since his professional debut for French side AS Mutzig.

He spent a lot of time in the second division of French football, with Wenger’s three years in Ligue 1 yielding just 11 appearances. The current FIFA Director of Development lacked the pace, power and agility to make it in professional football and retired at the age of 32 after spending 12 years as a player.

However, that only marked the start of a glorious chapter. Wenger developed his tactical acumen during his time as a player, which gave him a keen insight into the game.

Before spending over 20 years at Arsenal as one of their longest-serving and best managers, Wenger was at the helm of Monaco, AS Nancy and J-League side Nagoya Grampus. The Frenchman will forever be remembered for leading Arsenal's 'The Invincibles' in the historic 2003-04 Premier League season.

#2 Jurgen Klopp

Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp

Champions League winner Jurgen Klopp is regarded as one of the best in the modern game. Klopp has also laid his hands on two Bundesliga and one Premier League trophy.

While the German will always treasure his time in the dugout, he might not be overly proud of his career as a footballer. Klopp had begun his playing career at local side Ergenzinge, in the third tier of German football.

After a one-year spell at the club, he was signed by top-tier side Eintracht Frankfurt’s reserves. However, he failed to break into their first team and would go on to play for lower-league sides, Viktoria Sindlingen and SG Rot-Weiss Frankfurt, before retiring in 2001 with FSV Mainz.

Klopp left Mainz as a player only to be signed on almost instantly as their manager. The impact was immediate. Mainz finished in the top 4 in the second league after finishing 14th in the preceding season.

In just three years, the German led Mainz to the Bundesliga, the top tier of German football. He received job offers from the likes of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

Klopp earned his immense reputation for his time at Dortmund - where he halted Bayern Munich’s domination, winning the Bundesliga twice. The 53-year old then oversaw Liverpool’s first league title in the Premier League era, along with helping the Reds win their Champions League title in 14 years.

#1 Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho

The self-proclaimed 'Special One' is inarguably one of the best brains in modern football, with a trophy cabinet comprising of the most prestigious titles in club football.

Mourinho’s tactical acumen and managerial pedigree are second to none. While football fans love or hate him, one cannot deny the massive impact he’s had in 21st-century football.

The Portuguese has three Premier League trophies, two Champions League titles and two Serie A titles, and was the World’s Best Club Coach at four different clubs - Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Chelsea and Porto.

Mourinho is also one of the few managers to win the Champions League with two different clubs - Inter Milan and Porto - the latter marking the beginning of the legend of the 'Special One'. In total, Mourinho has won eight domestic league titles, 13 League Cups and four European trophies, including two Europa League titles with Manchester United and Porto.

While any manager would envy his stellar achievements, Mourinho failed to make it as a footballer.

He wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Felix Mourinho, who won the Casa De Portugal twice. The 58-year old started his playing career under his father at Rio Ave and would go on to play for three more Portuguese clubs in a career that lasted seven years.

But he would go on to enjoy far greater success on the other side of the touchline.

Edited by Bhargav
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