11 top coaches who did not have legendary playing careers
Managers are often the first to go when results go south and constantly have to live with the pressure of having their tactics and team selections quizzed by the press and fans all around the world.
It is often believed that a fore-knowledge of football is necessary to get a good grip in coaching and while there might be a handful of great players who went on to succeed as coaches such as Pep Guardiola, Zinedine Zidane, Johan Cruyff, Diego Simeone, and Carlo Ancelotti but to name a few, there are also numerous other legendary players who failed at management.
There is also another group of managers, those who had next to no football experience, or had moderate playing careers at best before coaching but still went on to achieve success in the manager’s dugout.
These men all defied the odds and proved that prior knowledge of the game as a player is not necessary to succeed as a manager and here at Sportszion, we shall be having a rundown of 11 managers who excelled without having great playing careers.
#11 Julian Nagelsmann
Nagelsmann saw his dream of playing football professionally ended at Under 19 level while he was still with Augsburg after persistent knee injuries forced him into a premature retirement.
He went on to pursue a career in sports science at the university and upon graduation worked briefly with Thomas Tuchel as assistant manager at Augsburg.
He subsequently went to TSG Hoffenheim and managed their various youth sides before being handed an appointment to manage the senior squad in October 2015 which was to start at the beginning of the 2016/2017 season.
At the time of his appointment, Nagelsmann was just 28 years and to date is the youngest first-team coach in Bundesliga history.
Due to the early resignation of Huub Stevens, Nagelsmann saw his tenure started earlier and when he started as Hoffenheim coach, the club were sat 17th on the log and were seven points from safety.
He, however, guided the club to safety and impressed the next season by inspiring ‘the villagers’ to a 4th-place finish in the league and subsequent qualification for the Champions League playoff for the first time in their history where they were eliminated by Liverpool.
Hoffenheim went one further by finishing in third place the following year and appeared in the group stage proper of the Champions League proper.
Following his good work with Hoffenheim, Nagelsmann was linked with numerous high-profile jobs including that of Bayern Munich, but he was eventually appointed by Red-Bull Leipzig in July 2019 where he has continued his upward career trajectory.
#10 Thomas Tuchel
Unlike Julian Nagelsmann, Thomas Tuchel did get to have a professional career, representing Stuttgart Kickers in the 2. Bundesliga.
It was, however, an uneventful spell and he was released by the club, subsequently joining SSV Ulm in the German third division.
A serious knee cartilage injury ended his career aged 25 years and Tuchel turned to football management, and managed the Stuttgart Under 19 team for five years, helping in the development of future internationals like Mario Gomez and Holger Badstuber.
His first foray into professional management came with Augsburg II and he impressed significantly to be handed the job with the first team at Mainz 05, taking over from none other than Jurgen Klopp.
Tuchel built on the foundation laid by Klopp and made steady improvements with Mainz for five years and helped consolidate them as a Bundesliga side as well as secure European qualification.
In 2015, he once again replaced Jurgen Klopp, this time at Borussia Dortmund and under his watch, BVB pushed Bayern in the Bundesliga, while Tuchel also helped bring out the best in players like Christian Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
He ended his Dortmund tenure with one trophy, the DFB Pokal, won in 2017 before a fallout with the club’s hierarchy led to his departure.
He was subsequently snapped up by PSG and although European success has so far eluded him, he has triumphed in the league in each of his two seasons with the French capital club.
#9 Maurizio Sarri
Maurizio Sarri started life as an adult in the banking sector, working as a banker while he got his coaching degrees and badges.
His first job as a coach came when he was appointed as manager of Serie B side Pescara in 2005 and he earned rave reviews for his performance with Empoli who he first guided to the top-flight and then preserved their status as a Serie A side.
Napoli subsequently hired him and with the Neapolitans, he garnered worldwide attention, with his attractive style of play earning comparisons to Pep Guardiola.
He pushed Juventus in the race for the 2017/2018 Scudetto and although Napoli ultimately fell short, they won plenty of admirers for their aesthetic play.
Sarri was subsequently appointed by Chelsea and he won his first managerial honor when he guided the Blues to victory in the Europa League and he is currently in the dugout for Juventus where he would hope to end the club’s long wait for European glory.
#8 Andre Villas-Boas
Andres Villas-Boas never played football at any level but had his first foray into the world of professional football when he found himself in the same apartment as Sir Bobby Robson (who was then the manager of Porto).
The two got into a discussion about football and Robson was so impressed with his tactical acumen that he elected to put a 16-year-old Villa-Boas in Porto’s observation department.
From then on, he became fascinated with the intricacies of football’s tactical side and Robson arranged for him to get his coaching badges which set him on the path to becoming a football manager.
Before the age of 20, Villas-Boas had gotten his UEFA Coaching A license and he was subsequently appointed as Jose Mourinho’s assistant with Porto, following his compatriot to his later spells with Chelsea and Inter Milan.
He soon left the employ of Mourinho to pursue a career for himself and was appointed as the manager of Academica Coimbra in October 2009 and he guided the club from a bottom-placed standing at the time of his employment to a safe 11th placed finish at the end of the season.
After just one season with Academica, Villas-Boas was hired by Porto and with the Portuguese giants, he cemented his legacy in history, winning a domestic double, while also finishing the league season unbeaten and became the youngest manager to win a European trophy when he triumphed in the Europa League aged just 33 years.
Again, his performance with Porto turned heads and Roman Abramovich paid a record sum to free him from his Porto contract after just one season to become manager of Chelsea. It, however, did not work out and he was fired less than seven months later after falling out with several senior players.
Further spells have been taken in with Tottenham, Zenit st Petersburg, and Shanghai SIPG to varying levels of success and he currently manages Olympique de Marseille in the French Ligue 1.
#7 Carlos Alberto Parreira
Carlos Alberto Parreira never played football professionally but worked in the fitness department for many Brazilian clubs, as well as the World Cup-winning team in 1970.
It is from here that he got most of his tactical knowledge, with Parreira himself admitting that after over three decades of working as a fitness coach, he was as tactically astute as almost anyone else.
He went on to manage several clubs and national sides including South Africa, Ghana, and Brazil, with his finest moment coming in 1994 when he guided his nation to her fifth world title after a 24-year wait.
Carlos Alberto holds the record as the manager who has managed in the most World Cup tournaments (six) and was last the manager of the Bafana Bafana of South Africa at the World Cup they hosted in 2010.
#6 Rafa Benitez
Rafa Benitez seemed destined for a great career as a defender, having represented Real Madrid at youth level, before a serious injury put paid to his dreams of representing the first team of Real Madrid.
He went on to turn out for some lower division sides, but a recurrence of the injury ended his career at the tender age of 26 and forced him to venture into football management.
H achieved reckoning with Valencia where he won two league titles and the UEFA Cup as well as making it to the final of the Champions League, but his most defining moment came in 2005 when he inspired Liverpool to come from three goals down to defeat a star-studded AC Milan squad to lift the Champions League in Istanbul.
To date, the Spaniard is the only man in history to have won the Europa League, Champions League, FIFA Club World Cup, and UEFA Super Cup as a manager.
#5 Bill Struth
Bill Struth is arguably the single most important person in the history of Rangers FC and without his impact as a manager, the Scottish side would not have achieved all the success they went on to record.
He was appointed as assistant manager in 1914 but got the main job in 1920 following the passing on of his boss in a tragic boating accident.
With Struth at the helm, ‘Gers’ won 14 of the next 19 Scottish league titles before the second world war, including five in a row between 1927 and 1931. He also helped the club break its 25-year hoodoo in search of a Cup triumph when he lifted the Scottish Cup in 1928, thereby having the distinction of being the first man in Scottish history to lift the double (going one further by doing a domestic treble in 1949).
He passed on in 1956 having won a total of 30 official trophies (73 unofficial), but rather remarkably, he never had anything to do with football prior to coaching and was a stonemason for most of his adult life.
#4 Arsene Wenger
Arsene Wenger is the greatest manager in the history of Arsenal and he helped revolutionize the English game by introducing methods like monitoring of players’ diets and training regimes.
In total, he won over 15 major honors with the North London club and achieved the unique distinction of finishing an entire Premier League season undefeated, doing so in the 2003/2004 campaign.
Wenger did not do too much of note during his playing career, turning out for unheralded sides like Mutzig and Mulhouse and made just 80 appearances in total.
#3 Jurgen Klopp
Jurgen Klopp earned praise for his developmental work with Mainz 05 after guiding the club to their first-ever Bundesliga promotion and he boosted his CV further with Borussia Dortmund whom he guided to unlike consecutive Bundesliga triumphs as well as a Champions League final appearance.
With Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp has forged the side into genuine European superpowers, while they are also on course to end their three-decade wait for a domestic title.
As a player, the 55-year-old represented Mainz 05 for 11 seasons in the lower leagues and himself admitted that he had 4th division feet but a 1st division footballing brain which is a reference to his managerial abilities.
#2 Arrigo Sacchi
Arrigo Sacchi helped forge what is regarded by many to be the best club team in the history of football, with his Milan side in the late 1980s and early 1990s conquering all and sundry before them.
He had earlier managed Parma, but Milan president Silvio Berlusconi hired him after he guided the unfancied club to knock out the Italian giants in the Copa Italia.
With players like Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Carlo Ancelotti, Paolo Maldini, and Franco Baresi, Sacchi achieved immortality, while he also made a lasting impression on football’s tactics by shelving the widely used man-marking and libero system in favor of the zonal marking.
During his unveiling as Milan manager, the press quizzed him on how he hoped to achieve success as a manager, having not played football professionally.
In response, Sacchi gave a one-liner that has since been immortalized, saying: “I never realized that to be a jockey you had to be a horse first.”
#1 Jose Mourinho
Jose Mourinho led an unfancied Porto to Champions League glory in 2004 and since then, his legend has grown, with spells at Chelsea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and Manchester United cementing his legacy as the ‘Special One’.
Mourinho is a serial winner who has achieved success everywhere he has managed, with his crowning moment coming in 2010 when he led Inter Milan to a continental treble
With 24 major trophies won, Mourinho is one of the most decorated managers in history and even though he might have suffered some damage to his reputation in recent years, he is undoubtedly one of the best coaches of all time.
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