The recent arrival of Mikel Arteta at Arsenal means that six of the 20 teams currently competing in the Premier League have managers who previously played for the club during their playing days. I was slightly surprised by just how many teams are managed by former players when researching this seven, with the numbers being similarly high in La Liga, Serie A, and the Bundesliga.
To make this seven a little bit more interesting, I’m going to be limiting myself to just one inclusion per league and/or country. The seven I’ve gone for are not the seven biggest clubs or who I think are the seven best managers in charge of their former clubs, but pretty much just a random selection spread out geographically that hopefully you will enjoy.
Here are seven football clubs currently managed by former players:
7. Chelsea – Frank Lampard
The six Premier League clubs managed by former players are… and I’ll give you a couple of seconds to pause this video in case you wish to quickly try and guess all six before I tell you… right, they are Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace and Sheffield United. Crystal Palace are the only debatable ones there, since Roy Hodgson never actually registered a senior appearance at Selhurst Park, but the boyhood Eagles fan came through the Palace academy and spent a season in their first team.
The Premier League team that I’ve chosen to include in this seven is Chelsea, who are one of very few football teams managed by arguably their greatest player of all time. Frank Lampard joined Chelsea from West Ham in 2001, and he went on to spend 13 seasons at Stamford Bridge. The club was overhauled from 2003 onwards following the arrival of Roman Abramovich, but Lampard was one of a few players to stick out the revolution.
Among the outstanding midfielders of his generation, Lampard is among the most prolific central midfielders the sport has ever seen. During 648 appearances for Chelsea, the Englishman found the back of the net 211 times, making him their all time leading goal scorer. He retired in 2016 following a couple of brief stints at Manchester City and New York City FC, and in 2018 he was appointed as manager of Derby County. He took the Rams to a play-off final where they were beaten by Aston Villa, but following Maurizio Sarri’s exit for Juventus, Lampard got his dream job at the Bridge much earlier than expected in the summer.
6. Real Madrid – Zinedine Zidane
Whilst Zinedine Zidane can’t quite rival Frank Lampard in terms of being perhaps the greatest player in the history of Real Madrid, he isn’t too far off. The Frenchman spent the last five years of his career at the Bernabeu, having arrived from Juventus in 2001 for a then world record fee of €77.5 million. Zizou wasn’t always the most consistent in Madrid, but he still lit up the Spanish capital often when it mattered most with his bewildering technique and effortless ability with the ball at his feet. The highlight of Zidane’s playing days with Real Madrid was undoubtedly the 2002 Champions League final, when he scored one of the all time great Champions League goals as Real overcame Bayer Leverkusen 2-1.
The Frenchman hung up his boots in 2006, a little prematurely many felt, following a dramatic goodbye to the world of football in the 2006 World Cup final. After a few years largely out of the game, Zidane was tempted back into an advisory role at Real Madrid by Jose Mourinho in 2010. In 2011, he stepped up to become sporting director, and in 2013, he became Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant manager. A year later Zidane unofficially took charge of Real Madrid Castilla, Los Blancos’ reserve side, having to do so unofficially since he didn’t have the requisite coaching badges required to manage Real’s second string.
In January 2016, Zizou stepped up to replace Rafa Benitez in the top job at the Bernabeu. It was a bold appointment, but it proved to be a shrewd one, and Zidane won three Champions League titles in two-and-a-half seasons with his former club. He, along with Cristiano Ronaldo, departed in the summer of 2018, and Real Madrid descended into a bit of a crisis. Zidane returned in March 2019, and if he can stage a similar renaissance in the Spanish capital this time out, he will prove beyond any doubt that he is a fine manager in addition to having been a world class player.
5. Montpellier – Michel Der Zakarian
Another club managed by a former legend, albeit a slightly less well-known one globally than Frank Lampard or Zinedine Zidane, is mid-table Ligue 1 side Montpellier. Born in Armenia when it was part of the Soviet Union but raised in France, Michel Der Zakarian began his professional career with Nantes in 1979. He won a Ligue 1 title with the club in 1983, before joining Montpellier in 1988. The Franco-Armenian defender spent the next decade at Montpellier, retiring with the club in 1998, and he has since managed both of his former clubs.
Der Zakarian started out managing Montpellier’s C team, before becoming assistant manager. He left to take over Nantes’ B team in 2006, then became their assistant, before leaving for second tier side Clermont. In 2012, he returned to Nantes as first team boss, and five years later – via a single season with Reims – Der Zakarian returned to Montpellier as head coach.
4. Bayern Munich – Hans-Dieter Flick
From Franz Beckenbauer to Jurgen Klinsmann and even their most recently-departed boss Niko Kovac, Bayern Munich are no strangers to having a former player in charge of their side. You won’t find Hans-Dieter Flick in too many all time Bayern XIs, but the midfielder did spend five years in Bavaria, during which time he made over 100 league appearances. He won four Bundesliga titles in five seasons there, and started as Bayern lost to Porto in the 1987 European Cup. Flick’s playing days ended prematurely after leaving Bayern, as he suffered a serious injury at Koln in 1993.
That led to an early move into coaching, firstly with Victoria Bammental in 1996. After four years there, Flick joined Hoffenheim, where he spent five seasons. In 2006, he became Joachim Low’s assistant manager with the German national team, a position he would hold for the next eight years, departing after Germany’s 2014 World Cup win. A role within the German FA followed, before a return to Bayern as Niko Kovac’s assistant last summer. Just a few months later, Kovac had been sacked and Flick took over on an interim basis. It now looks possible the former midfielder will remain in Bavaria until the end of the season, and possibly longer subject to results.
3. Al-Sadd – Xavi
If it is true that unfulfilled playing careers lead to the best managers, Xavi Hernandez ought to be a terrible coach. The Spaniard won all there is to win as a player, from the World Cup and two European Championships with Spain, to four Champions League’s and eight La Liga titles with Barcelona. It is his 17 years in the Barcelona first team that Xavi is of course best remembered, seemingly as a representation of the La Masia philosophy in human form, and Xavi’s only other club was Al-Sadd in Qatar.
The Barca legend spent four seasons in the Middle East, where he cruised around the pitch in his mid-late 30’s making a mockery of the Qatar Stars League. He hung up his boots at the end of last season, aged 39, with a view to moving into coaching in Qatar. Al-Sadd were keen to keep the World Cup winner around, and they offered him a two-year deal as head coach at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium. Xavi obliged, but his first half-season in management isn’t going as smoothly as he would have liked. Qatari champions last season, they have dropped to fifth at the mid-way stage this season, perhaps with the primary issue being that they can no longer play Xavi himself.
2. Lazio – Simone Inzaghi
Both Inzaghi brothers have moved into coaching in recent years, and whilst Filippo was undoubtedly the better footballer, Simone might just be the better manager. Filippo also managed his former club, AC Milan, but that was short-lived, and he now coaches Benevento in Serie B. Simone, meanwhile, has only ever coached at Lazio.
Both brothers began their careers with Piacenza, but whilst Filippo made his name with Juventus and AC Milan, Simone spent eleven years and therefore the vast majority of his career with Lazio. Tall, slim and quick, Inzaghi was Lazio’s top scorer as they won a Serie A title under Sven-Goran Eriksson in the 1999-2000 season, in addition to winning three Coppa Italia trophies with the club.
He retired with Lazio in 2010, and was immediately handed a job as a youth coach. He was briefly handed the first team reigns at the end of the 2015-16 season, before being replaced by Marcelo Bielsa. However, Bielsa resigned after less than a week in Rome, and as such, Inzaghi was appointed on a permanent basis. He has finished fifth twice and eighth once in three seasons at the Stadio Olimpico, and he guided the club to a Coppa Italia trophy win last season. Lazio are currently third in the Serie A, looking like good bets to make the Champions League next season and outsiders in terms of keeping up the chase with Inter Milan and Juventus for the Scudetto.
1. River Plate – Marcelo Gallardo
In top spot in this seven which, I will remind you, is in no particular order, is former River Plate star Marcelo Gallardo. Gallardo had not one, not two, but three stints with his boyhood club, and four if one counts returning as a manager as well. A brilliant diminutive playmaker with quick feet and genuine invention, Gallardo was one of a number of Argentinians to have been likened to Diego Maradona over the years.
He began his career in Buenos Aires with River, where he won a handful of league titles and quickly became an Argentine international. Monaco came calling in 1999, and Gallardo won three trophies in four seasons in the tiny city-state before returning to River Plate. Three seasons later he was back in France, this time with PSG, before joining DC United in 2008. Now well into his 30’s, Gallardo still wasn’t done with his love-affair with River, spending one last season with the club in 2009-10, and retiring with Nacional in Uruguay a year later.
Following his season playing for Nacional, Gallardo spent another season managing the club. In 2014, he returned to River Plate for the fourth time as a manager. He inherited something of a crisis, but the 5’5” former attacking midfielder would soon earn plaudits for his management style. He guided the team to their joint all time record unbeaten run of 32 games, winning the Copa Sudamericana in his debut campaign. In total, Gallardo has won ten trophies in a little over four years back with his boyhood club.