Success as a manager comes in many different forms, whether that be through title defenses, relegation comebacks or gaining a cult-like fan following. Many of the managers we know and love have had trophy-laden playing careers, yet these are often overshadowed by their achievements on the touchline. The pressure is high and the rewards are endless, but an illustrious few years in a starting eleven does not always guarantee a world class coaching career. Despite this, there are some managers whose time spent on the pitch was as fruitful as their time spent on the side. Today we take a look at four current football managers who were amazing players as well.
Zinedine ‘Zizou’ Zidane was arguably the best player in the world for a few years in the late 90s and early 00s. He finished in the top three of the Ballon d’Or standing three times in the space of four years, winning the coveted prize in 1998. The Frenchman had a stellar playing career, landing multiple league titles, the Champions League, the European Championships and the World Cup as the most influential player in that great French team.
After his career ended on a sour note, he head-butted Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the World Cup final in 2002 and was shown a straight red card, Zidane continues to play veterans football for the Real Madrid senior team as well as Futsal, before eventually taking his first strides into management in 2010 as manager of Real Madrid Castilla. Six years later he was appointed as manager of the Real Madrid first team, on the same day that the sacked Rafa Benitez, but nobody could have predicted what would follow.
Zidane led Real Madrid to the Champions League title in his first season as a full manager. Then he repeated the trick the following season. And again in his third season. By landing the trophy an astonishing three years running, Zidane became the first manager in history to do so and joined Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti as the only managers to have won three in total. Zizou announced that he was leaving the club on a high after the third title, ensuring his status as a club legend forevermore. Though he was tempted to return a year later, it hasn’t gone as well since.
To go from youth academy, to senior team, to manager of a single club is a rare sight in football. Rarer still is to win almost every accolade possible whilst doing it.
Pep Guardiola rose in the ranks of the Barcelona youth team before his trophy-packed eleven year spell at the Nou Camp. A tactically-minded defensive mid, situated right in the midst of Johan Cruyff’s dream-team, Guardiola picked up six La Liga titles, four of which were won in back-to-back years from 1990 through to 1994.
Pep’s trophy cabinet is also home to an Olympic gold medal (and player of the tournament title) for his efforts in the ‘92 summer games.
You’d be forgiven for brushing past his playing achievements though. Especially when you consider that since he has gone on to lead both Bayern Munich and Barcelona to three-in-a-row first place finishes, as well as being the first manager to hit the domestic treble in English football with Manchester City in 2018.
Famed for the resurgence of the 3-5-2, and a recently short-lived two-year-two-trophy spell at Chelsea, Antonio Conte continues the theme of fan favourite player to managerial mastermind.
Conte’s life in Serie A began with his hometown club of Lecce. A five year run of form and dominance in Midfield landed him a swift transfer to Trappatoni’s Juventus squad in ‘91, and a further five years down the line from that saw him don the captain’s armband for the very first time.
Fast, versatile and with a precision cross, Conte’s on the pitch work ethic resulted in 20 call-ups to the Italian national side; The height of these caps being the two runners-up medals for the ‘94 World Cup and the 2000 UEFA Euros.
A formidable 13 years with Juve had him lift the Serie A trophy five times, as well as being a one-time Champions League, UEFA Cup and Coppa Italia winner.
El Cholo aka Diego Simeone began his on-going legacy with Atletico Madrid some twenty six years ago.
Relegation with Pisa in ‘92 and the following two years at Seville was the precursor for his move to El Atleti in 1994. This three season run culminated in Atletico winning the double, with Simeone assisting the Spanish side to a first-place La Liga finish and Copa Del Ray in 1996.
Agile on his feet with an ability to pick out a pass from nowhere, Simeone was also known for his strength and deadliness in the air; Epitomised by his thunderous header for Inter Milan vs AC in the Derby della Madonnina of ‘97, where he helped his side clinch a much needed 1-0 win. His run of form continued on as Inter lifted the UEFA Cup that same year.
A further fruitful four years at Lazio followed, with big trophy lifts including the Coppa Italia, Supercoppa Italiania, UEFA Super Cup and Serie A Title, all of which came in between ‘99 and 2000. 7 trophies in a 5 year span for Simeone would eclipse all of his playing accolades, despite seeing out his career with a final return to Atletico Madrid.