Ranked! Every Premier League manager by their CURRENT playing ability
One weekend without Premier League football and we can't help but grapple with life's big questions.
That's how we came to think about how the day of the player-manager is long gone. It’s a shame really - there’s perhaps nothing more cavalier and downright weird than your gaffer shouting, “Sod it, I’ll do it myself,” before stripping out of a suit and into a full kit.
Edgar Davids may be the first one you think of, but how great would it be to see Sean Dyche organising his back four from within? Pep Guardiola spraying balls to Bernardo Silva? Ralph Hasenhuttl bemoaning the lack of service he’s getting up front?
At FourFourTwo Towers, we’ve been wondering - who still has it among the Premier League’s managers? If every manager were to start playing again now, who would be the worst, right up to the best? In some cases, they might even improve their side.
20. Roy Hodgson
Sorry Roy, but someone has to bring up the rear.
The Crystal Palace manager is, we’re guessing, currently the worst at football among his contemporaries. It’s not necessarily because the highlight of his playing days came playing for Gravesend & Northfleet - it’s that he retired in 1976. He’s going to take a little more than some of the others to get back into peak fitness, and the game’s kind of moved on a bit since then.
19. Brendan Rodgers
Brendan Rodgers’s career ended before it began. A promising defender, he was a fixture in Reading’s reserves and Northern Ireland’s youth teams, before retiring at the age of 20 with a knee condition.
That leaves the Leicester City gaffer at a slight disadvantage over some of the other names on this list. A top manager, but maybe not one of the better players on this list.
18. Jose Mourinho
He’s had a special management career, but Jose Mourinho’s playing days were distinctly average. Were older Jose managing younger Jose, the younger Jose would probably receive a regular rollicking.
The Tottenham boss began playing at Rio Ave as a midfielder, where his father was a coach, but reportedly lacked pace and power. It’s been 33 years since he last kicked a ball professionally and while he could probably still wind up his opposite midfielder, he’s unlikely to trouble the rest of the players (well, managers) on this list.
17. Daniel Farke
Norwich City manager Daniel Farke had an unremarkable playing career. He bounced around the German fourth tier, had three spells at SV Lippstadt and once described himself as “the slowest striker in the whole of western Europe”.
Despite this, he scored a fair few goals in his career. He was decent at the level he played at but unfortunately, he can’t compete with some of the other names here.
16. Chris Wilder
Wilder was a right-back. Whilst this no doubt informed his “overlapping centre-back” philosophy, it’s perhaps doubtful he could perform that role himself now. The intensity of a full-back’s role is perhaps a little beyond Big Chris now. 16th seems fair.
15. Steve Bruce
What? 15th? Steve Bruce, the legendary Premier League centre-back, way down in 15th? Just above a striker from the German fourth division?
Well, the Newcastle United manager did retire over two decades ago. As a defender, Bruce made his name for a high-octane style of play, rampaging like a rhino across the pitch, chipping in at both boxes. Could he still deliver that kind of performance now? For our money, no. Sorry, Brucey.
14. Eddie Howe
A cultured south coast centre-back with fabulous passing ability, Eddie Howe played for Bournemouth around 250 times, starting his story there before returning later on - not unlike his management career. He’d have undoubtedly had a stellar career - perhaps representing England - were it not for a knee injury that forced him to retire in 2007. He moved to Portsmouth just before their mid-2000s pomp, after all.
Could Howe still kick it? We reckon so. He was a classy player, a decent ball-playing defender, but given the injuries he had as a player, this feels like the natural place for him on our list.
13. Jurgen Klopp
By his own admission, Jurgen Klopp was not a good footballer, as the Liverpool manager spent his career mainly in Bundesliga II during the '90s. Curiously, he was both a striker and right-back - which suggests he was rubbish but would do anything to get on the pitch.
It’s hard to deny such Duracell bunny enthusiasm wouldn’t still see him through. Sorry though, Jurgen - you absolutely couldn't spearhead your own gegenpress these days.
12. David Moyes
West Ham boss David Moyes was accused of being lazy and too interested in Christianity as a player by former managers. Despite that, he still made over 500 career appearances as a defender at an array of clubs.
He retired 20 years ago, but he’s not exactly let himself go. He was regarded as a clever player - and there’s no doubt he probably has a fiery side - but he’s not exactly one of the better players on this list.
11. Dean Smith
Aston Villa's Dean Smith spent his playing career in the lower leagues, making it all the way up to Sheffield Wednesday in 2003. He had an unlucky time of it, getting relegated a couple of times and losing a few play-off ties, so you’d be forgiven for having never watched him play.
Of course, it wasn’t all Smith’s fault. He was a hardened defender, a leader in some of the teams he was in and actually, he’s still in pretty good nick. Throw him onto the pitch now and watch him tear into opposition strikers - he’d probably complement Tyrone Mings, to be honest.
10. Carlo Ancelotti
It’s difficult to imagine Carlo Ancelotti young. Perennially over 40 even in the minds of Premier League fans, the Italian racked up over 300 career appearances for the likes of Roma, Parma and Milan, which sets him apart from the rookie German journeymen and Championship rejects of this list.
Unfortunately, however, age is against the Everton manager on this one - now 60, his best playing days are (clearly) behind him. He probably can’t shuttle-run like peak Gattuso anymore, but give the ball to Super Carlo in the middle of the park and he’s probably still capable of pinging 40-yarders to the frontmen.
9. Graham Potter
Brighton boss Graham Potter played in the same Southampton team as Ali Dia - the Senegalese “international” who scammed himself into Graeme Souness’s team. On that basis, Potter could’ve shown a promise anywhere between Claus Lundekvam’s level, and any random bloke you’d meet down the park.
Yet another defender, Potter is only really remembered fondly by lower league sides, but given that he’s still in good shape, he’s surely around midtable in these rankings. He has Premier League experience, high football intelligence and probably hasn’t lost as much mobility as some of his contemporaries. This is about where he deserves to be.
8. Nigel Pearson
Nigel Pearson retired in 1998. But would you want him marking you on a corner tomorrow? No. Absolutely not. You’d be lucky to leave the field alive.
The Watford manager may have the constant expression of a man whose parking space has been stolen, but he captained Middlesbrough to two promotions during his playing days. He’s no doubt lost a yard of pace, but he’s probably harder than he was back then, let’s face it.
7. Nuno Espirito Santo
The only former goalkeeper on this list, Wolves manager Nuno is difficult to place. He played for the likes of Dynamo Moscow and Deportivo - a certain Jose Mourinho signed him for Porto, once - though wasn’t actually the first choice goalkeeper at many of the clubs he was at.
Still, if you’re good enough to be in the Porto squad in 2010 - yes, he retired this side of the Arctic Monkeys, which isn’t too common on this list - then you’re probably in the top half of our countdown. And anyway, goalkeepers don’t run around much, do they? You got this, Nuno.
6. Sean Dyche
Look us in the eye and tell us you couldn’t still imagine Big Sean Dyche delivering a Cannavaro-esque performance at the heart of Burnley’s defence, if push came to shove, this weekend. Well, not this weekend – but you know what we mean.
The gruff defender retired in 2007 at Northampton Town but perhaps given his own penchant for mastering the deep block, we reckon he could still do a job in the right defence.
5. Ralph Hasenhuttl
Perhaps surprisingly high in this list, Ralph Hasenhuttl was a striker - one of few here - who represented Austria at national level and bagged three goals in only eight appearances. He won titles in his native country and ended his career at Bayern II. Could he still cut it? Course he could.
It’s 16 years since the Southampton coach hung up his boots, but he looks like he’s still fit enough to put in a decent shift up top, should the chance ever present itself. Get him on a pitch with Ancelotti, we say - all he needs is one whipped ball.
4. Pep Guardiola
Now we’re getting to the elite - the champagne playing careers.
Coached by Johan Cruyff, a member of Barcelona’s 1992 Champions League-winning side and one of the most influential and iconic deep-lying playmakers of all time, Pep Guardiola could undoubtedly dust off his boots now and do a job for a professional football club - though perhaps couldn’t quite oust Rodri from the Manchester City side.
The only thing going against the Catalan midfield metronome is that he left Barca nearly 20 years ago. He wound down on benches in Italy, then went to Qatar, then Mexico, so while his twilight years were a little more impressive than some on this list, he’s probably not as good currently as our top three picks.
3. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer only played 10 minutes at a time, so he’s got plenty in the tank left to come out of retirement, right?
In fact, Ole could probably still do a job for Manchester United. He may have lost a yard of pace, but a top finisher never loses his knack for scoring goals - just ask the other goalscorer from the 1999 Champions League final. And while he’s forever synonymous with 1999 too, he retired in 2007. Only 13 years ago. He had his fair share of injuries towards the end but give him the super-sub role and watch him thrive.
2. Mikel Arteta
Mikel Arteta has literally only missed one World Cup since retiring from football - he’s that fresh. Yes, he was never actually capped by Spain (partly due to their extensive list of ridiculously good midfielders) and yes, recurring injuries caught up with him too, but given that he basically only retired last week, he sneaks in ahead of his old pal Pep onto our list.
Arteta evolved as a midfielder at Arsenal, moving deeper as his body slowed down. Were he to play for the Gunners now, he’d probably slot nicely into that Granit Xhaka role. He can probably still hit a set-piece with venom - hell, positionally, he’s probably only improved in the last four years. If this were a world list, Arteta may still break the top five.
1. Frank Lampard
Well, who else?
There was a sense that even when Frank Lampard came back to the Premier League in his sunset years - after leaving Chelsea for a New York retirement - that he was one of the better players in Man City’s squad. Incredibly, that was only five years ago. He’s probably not declined in fitness all that much since then, either.
Frank’s simply one of the best footballers his country’s ever produced. Were he still playing, he’d probably embarrass some of the midfielders currently at Chelsea. And that's no insult to them either - some people just don't lose it.
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