Ranked! The top 18 footballers who became politicians

"Keep politics out of football" is an oft-repeated phrase uttered on social media in response to issues inside, and outside, of the game. 

Despite that, though, there are plenty of former footballers who choose not to heed that advice, instead opting to enter into public service and become politicians, driving change from the forefront themselves.

While Gary Neville appeared on stage with Labour leader Keir Starmer recently, the former Manchester United full-back has ruled out an immediate future in politics. Regardless, there are still 18 others who have turned their hand to government policy.

Footballers who became politicians

18. Sol Campbell

Sol Campbell

Sol Campbell turned his hand to politics after football (Image credit: Getty)

Ex-Tottenham, Arsenal and Portsmouth centre-back Campbell saw out his playing days with Newcastle in 2011, and initially dabbled in British politics post-retirement.

Having previously aligned himself with the policies of the Conservative Party, the former England international revealed in 2014 that he was considering running for office, partially in a bid to help secure the 'black vote' for the Tories. 

The following year, Campbell put himself forward in the race for the Conservative nomination for Mayor of London, but he ultimately failed to make the shortlist.

17. Albert Gudmundsson

Albert Gudmundsson

Albert Gudmundsson was one of Icelandic football's first stars (Image credit: Getty)

Gudmundsson was the first of his Icelandic countrymen to become a professional player, spending his career with Rangers, Arsenal, Nancy, Milan, RC Paris and Nice, as well as Valur and FH back home.

The former forward entered the political arena in 1970, joining the Independence Party and becoming the councilman for Reykjavik. He was then elected as an MP four years later, before his appointment as Minister of Finance in 1983 and Minister of Industry in 1985.

16. Andrey Arshavin

Andrey Arshavin

Andrey Arshavin once tried to balance football and politics (Image credit: Getty)

Former Zenit and Arsenal forward Arshavin had a pop at scoring a political job in Russia. Somewhat familiarly for Gunners fans, he missed.

The former Russia captain also ran for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia in the 2007 regional council elections, but withdrew before any votes were cast in order to concentrate on football. He hung up his boots in 2018 but has not returned to politics since then.

15. Roman Pavlyuchenko

Roman Pavlyuchenko

Roman Pavlyuchenko won an election while he was still playing (Image credit: Getty)

Not many people could juggle the demands of being a Premier League striker and a politician, but Pavlyuchenko gave it a try. In 2007, a year before he joined Tottenham, the Russian marksman secured a seat in his hometown of Stavropol for Putin’s party.

A Russian football commentator claimed the only reason Pavlyuchenko took to politics was because “the international financial crises affected his wages”. He managed more votes than goals, though.

14. Marc Wilmots

Marc Wilmots

Marc Wilmots spent four years as a Senator in Belgium (Image credit: Getty)

In between becoming Belgium’s top goalscorer at World Cups and managing the national team, Wilmots had an unsuccessful stint in Belgian politics. After hanging up his boots in 2003, the ex-striker was elected to the Senate as a representative for French-speaking liberal party Mouvement Réformateur (MR).

But the Bull of Dongeleberg, as he's apparently called in his homeland, resigned in 2005. Four years later he became Belgium's assistant manager, then took the top job from 2012 to 2016. He later coached the national teams of Ivory Coast and Iran.

13. Zico

Zico

Zico tried to become FIFA president in 2015 (Image credit: Getty)

One of Brazil's greatest ever footballers who was part of the legendary Selecao side which graced the 1982 World Cup, Zico became the country's sports minister in 1990. 

The former Flamengo man advanced a number of reforms to improve Brazilian football, but was left frustrated when a parliamentary vote was continually delayed and duly vacated the post just over a year later.

After various managerial spells including positions with Japan, Iraq and Fenerbahce, Zico announced his intention to run for the FIFA presidency in 2015. He failed to secure the backing of five national football associations, however, and was therefore forced to withdraw from the running.

12. Lilian Thuram

Lilian Thuram

Lilian Thuram once debated Nicolas Sarkozy on television (Image credit: Getty)

Thuram has won pretty much everything he’s ever been involved in – even a debate with the future French president. In 2005, the then-UMP leader Nicolas Sarkozy took on Thuram in a national television debate where he labelled kids from the French ghettos as “scum”. The former right-back replied to the right-winger in typical no-nonsense fashion: “I’m no scum.” 

Two years later, the freshly-minted President Sarkozy offered the World Cup winner a role as Minister of Diversity. Thuram declined.   

11. Grzegorz Lato

Grzegorz Lato

Grzegorz Lato moved into politics after hanging up his boots (Image credit: Getty)

The 1974 World Cup Golden Boot winner boasts a century of Poland caps and bagged 45 goals for the national team.

He also entered the political cauldron in 2001 as senator for the Democratic Left Alliance Party, before taking on the role of president for the Polish FA. In that position, he sacked Dutch coach Leo Beenhaker live on television after Poland’s failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup via a 3-0 defeat by Slovenia. Ouch. 

10. Jozsef Bozsik

Jozsef Bozsik

Jozsef Bozsik was part of the great Hungary team of the 1950s (Image credit: Getty)

Pictured fifth from the right in the image above, Bozsik was part of the iconic Hungarian "Golden Team" which came agonisingly close to winning the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland. 

A mainstay at Budapest Honved throughout his club career, the midfielder was elected as a member of the National Assembly of Hungary while still a footballer in 1953, aged just 27.

He later became manager of the Hungary national team, appointed in 1974 and tasked with guiding the team to the World Cup four years later. Ill health forced him to resign almost immediately, though, and he died of heart failure in 1978.

9. Pele

Pele

Pele once served as Brazil's Extraordinary Minister for Sport (Image credit: Getty)

Regarded by many as the greatest footballer who ever lived, Pele has enjoyed a diverse career since retiring from the game in 1977. As well as holding positions as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and a UN ambassador for ecology and the environment, the former forward spent time as Brazil's Extraordinary Minister for Sport.

He even had a piece of legislation named after him - the "Pele law" - as he sought to reduce corruption in Brazilian football, but he left his position in 2001 after being accused of involvement in a corruption scandal himself.

8. Hakan Sukur

Hakan Sukur

Hakan Sukur has clashed with Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Image credit: Getty)

The brilliantly-nicknamed Bull of the Bosphorus is Turkey's all-time record goalscorer, while he's also considered a legend at Galatasaray, for whom he found the net 295 times across three spells. 

The former striker turned his hand to politics after retiring, winning a seat in the Turkish parliament in 2011 as a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party.

He resigned from the party two and a half years later, but remained an MP as an independent.

Sukur then hit the headlines again in 2016, when a warrant was issued for his arrest after he was charged with "being a member of an armed terror group" a few months on from a separate charge of insulting president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Twitter. He current lives in exile in the US.

7. Oleg Blokhin

Oleg Blokhin

Oleg Blokhin represented two parties at the same time (Image credit: Getty)

Confounding the old saying, Blokhin is a jack of all trades and master of one or two. The record goalscorer for Dynamo Kiev and the Soviet Union became the first manager to qualify Ukraine for a major tournament when the Yellow-Blue made it through to the 2006 World Cup, and he even found time to be elected into the country’s parliament.

The sexegenarian was voted in with the Hromada party in 1998 despite being a member of the Communist Party of Ukraine at the same time. And they say men can't multi-task. 

6. Titi Camara

Titi Camara

Titi Camara was once Guinea's Sports Minister (Image credit: Getty)

Former Lens, Liverpool and West Ham striker Camara spent most of his playing days in England and France, before returning to his native Guinea after retiring from football in the mid-2000s.

After brief spells as both national technical director and head coach of the national team in 2009, Camara was installed as Guinea's Sports Minister following the election of president Alpha Conde. He lasted until 2012.

5. Andriy Shevchenko

Andriy Shevchenko

Andriy Shevchenko is another Ukrainian who dabbled in politics (Image credit: Getty)

The legendary Dynamo Kyiv and Milan striker scored goals for fun throughout his playing career, notwithstanding a fruitless spell at Chelsea between 2006 and 2009. 

Shevchenko had already dabbled with politics while still a footballer, backing the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine in the late 1990s and then endorsing presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych in 2004.

It was therefore no surprise when the former centre-forward threw his hat into the ring in 2012, immediately joining the Ukraine - Forward! party following his retirement in 2012. Shevchenko failed to win a seat in parliament, though, and later returned to football to manage the national team.

4. Kakha Kaladze

Kakha Kaladze

Kakha Kaladze currently serves as the Mayor of Tbilisi (Image credit: Getty)

One of Georgia's greatest ever players, the former Milan defender hung up his boots in May 2012, but his political career began a few months before that: in February of the same year, Kaladze joined the Georgian Dream–Democratic Georgia party and then became an MP in October.

Just two weeks after his election, the two-time Champions League winner was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy, a move which many criticised due to Kaladze's business interests in the sector. He currently serves as the Mayor of Tbilisi, a position he has held for five years.

3. Gianni Rivera

Gianni Rivera

Gianni Rivera spent time as a Member of the European Parliament (Image credit: Getty)

Only Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta have made more appearances for Milan than Rivera, who pulled on the famous Rossoneri shirt on 658 occasions between 1960 and 1979.

He initially became the club's vice-president after ending his playing career, but by 1986 the former midfielder had turned his attention to politics. Rivera became an MP for the Christian Democracy party the following year and later served as an under-secretary for defence, before becoming an MEP (Member of European Parliament) in 2005.

2. Romario

Romario

Romario is now a long-serving politician in Brazil (Image credit: Getty)

One of the greatest striker of all time and a bona fide Brazilian legend, Romario has gone further than most when it comes to swapping a career in football to one in politics. 

Standing under the Brazilian Socialist Party banner, the ex-PSV, Barcelona and Flamengo frontman was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, in 2010, and used his position to lobby against Brazil's hosting of the 2014 World Cup.

Shortly after that tournament Romario was elected to the Brazilian senate, receiving more votes than any other candidate who has ever stood for representation in Rio de Janeiro. He is still in office today, but has represented the Liberal Party since 2021.

1. George Weah

George Weah

(Image credit: Getty)

In 2005, shortly after the end of the Second Liberian Civil War, 1995 Ballon D’or winner Weah announced his intentions to run for presidency in Liberia. But popular as he was in his native homeland, the opposition cited him as an inexperienced politician with no education and labelled him “babe in the woods”. 

Weah lost to the Harvard-educated Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, but in 2014 he beat her son Robert to the Senate of Congress for Democratic Change. 

That wasn't the end of it. Weah had another go at the presidency in 2017 - and this time he was successful. The one-time Chelsea loanee won 61.54% of the vote to defeat Joseph Boakai in a run-off.

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