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Remembering the playing career of all 20 Premier League managers

It’s often said that great players don’t always necessarily make great managers and the current crop of coaches in the Premier League certainly have a wide-ranging background when it comes to playing careers.

From European Cup winners, to lower league stalwarts, and those who never kicked a ball professionally, we’ve looked at the playing careers of all 20 Premier League managers.

Arsenal – Mikel Arteta

Mikel Arteta came through the famous La Masia system at Barcelona, but failed to make the grade in Catalonia before forging a career on the continent. After spells with PSG, Rangers and Real Sociedad, the finest football of his career came in the Premier League.

A fan favourite across six seasons with Everton, he later signed for Arsenal and won consecutive FA Cups with the Gunners. Arteta captained the north Londoners during the latter stage of his career, before returning to his former side as manager in 2019.

It has proven an inspired appointment, with Arteta’s troops the unexpected leaders in the Premier League this season and chasing a first title since 2003/04.

Aston Villa – Unai Emery

Unai Emery was a midfielder who spent much of his career in Spain’s Segunda División. He broke through at Real Sociedad but made just five league appearances for the club, before spells at Toledo, Racing Ferrol, Leganes and Lorca Deportiva before retirement.

Emery moved into coaching with the latter after hanging up his boots, before developing into one of the most respected coaches in European football. The Spaniard has coached top clubs in Sevilla, Arsenal and PSG and is a record four-time winner of the Europa League.

Bournemouth – Gary O’Neill

Gary O’Neill spent much of his career bouncing between English football’s top two divisions, a hard-working midfielder whose game was appreciated at each of his clubs.

He won promotion to the Premier League for the first time at first club Portsmouth, before later enjoying play-off success with West Ham, QPR and Norwich. O’Neill made 542 appearances for nine different clubs and represented England up to u21 level, earning nine caps for the Young Lions.

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Brentford – Thomas Frank

Thomas Frank continues to have Brentford punching with the big boys in the Premier League, despite a modest background before his move into coaching. Frank never played football professionally, before embarking on a coaching career in his mid-twenties.

He began with his old amateur side Frederiksværk BK, before his rise began in Denmark’s youth teams, first taking charge of the u-16s in 2008. He has called Morten Olsen, the Denmark manager during his time in the national set-up, his biggest coaching influence.

Brighton – Roberto De Zerbi

Brighton continue to impress under Roberto De Zerbi, who has inherited the reins from Graham Potter and continued the Seagulls’ push for Europe.

De Zerbi was schooled as a player at AC Milan, but failed to make a senior appearance before a nomadic career that took in stops at Monza, Foggia, Catania, Napoli and Brescia among others. The former attacking midfielder also won two league titles during a short spell at Romania’s CFR Cluj.

Chelsea – Graham Potter

Graham Potter has taken an unusual route to top-level management, a pathway that began with coaching university football, took him through Sweden’s lower tiers, and into English football’s top division.

Potter’s playing career was spent mostly in the Midlands, emerging at Birmingham City before spells at clubs including Stoke, West Brom, Northampton and Boston United. The left-back – who earned one cap for England’s u21 side in 1996 – retired after a single season at Macclesfield Town in 2004/05, before moving into coaching.

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Crystal Palace – Patrick Vieira

One of the greatest midfielders of the Premier League era, Patrick Vieira was one of the pillars on which Arsene Wenger’s great Arsenal teams were built.

A relative unknown at the time of his arrival, Vieira stamped his authority on Premier League midfields across nine seasons in north London, lifting two domestic doubles and captaining the club to their 2003/04 Invincibles campaign.

Named in the PFA Team of the Year on six occasions, he later won four consecutive league titles at Inter Milan and lifted both the World Cup and European Championship with France. A genuine great and Arsenal icon.

Everton – Sean Dyche

A no-nonsense centre-back willing to put his head in where others wouldn’t place their feet, Sean Dyche the player shared much of the principals he demands as a manager. Effort and desire were the fundamentals for Dyche, who formed part of the Chesterfield team that reached the FA Cup semi-finals in 1997.

Dyche scored from the penalty spot in emphatic fashion as The Spireites took a 2-0 lead, before top-division Middlesbrough fought back to earn a 3-3 draw and later won a replay.

The centre-back later won promotions with Bristol City, Millwall and Northampton Town, while he also captained Watford.

Fulham – Marco Silva

Marco Silva made just two top-flight appearances during his career in Portugal, bouncing between clubs in the second and third tiers of the nation’s system.

A right-back, he ended his career with a six-year spell at Estoril in which he made 121 league appearances for the club. He was appointed as the club’s director of football upon retirement, before replacing Vinícius Eutrópio as manager early into the season. The rest is history.

Leeds – N/A

Leeds are in search of a new manager following the decision to sack Jesse Marsch this week, with the American dismissed after just 11 months in charge.

Marsch spent his playing career in the United States, representing DC United, Chicago Fire and Chivas USA. The midfielder won three MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shields, but earned just two caps for the USA national team.

Leicester – Brendan Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers turned to coaching after a genetic knee condition brought a premature end to his career, aged just 20. Rodgers had represented Northern Ireland schoolboys and signed for Reading as a teenager, featuring in the club’s reserve side before his early retirement.

He spent some time playing in non-league as he continued his coaching studies, becoming Reading’s academy director before joining Jose Mourinho’s coaching ranks at Chelsea.

Liverpool – Jurgen Klopp

Klopp’s senior career was spent almost entirely at Mainz, for who he made a club-record 325 appearances in Germany’s lower leagues. He began as a centre-forward due to his unusual combination of height and pace, before dropping into a defensive role later in his career.

Asked why he had never made it at Bundesliga level after being appointed Borussia Dortmund manager in 2008, Klopp told the media: “I had fourth-division talent and a first-division head. That resulted in the second division.”

Klopp stepped into management almost immediately after retiring, replacing the sacked Eckhard Krautzun at Mainz. He later led the club to Bundesliga promotion for the first time in their history and has done alright since.

Manchester City – Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola was a crucial cog in Barcelona’s fabled ‘Dream Team‘ under Johan Cruyff, as he dictated and influence games from the base of the midfield. Guardiola formed part of the team that won Barcelona’s first European Cup in 1992 and lifted four consecutive La Liga titles under Cruyff.

He later added the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, Copa del Rey and two further league titles to his honours list, during a career in Catalonia that saw him make 382 appearances. Guardiola had short spells at Brescia, Roma, Al-Ahli and Dorado before retirement, soaking in the knowledge of several top coaches before embarking on his own career in management.

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He has since eclipsed even the successes of his playing career, establishing himself as one of the greatest managers of all time.

Manchester United – Erik ten Hag

Erik ten Hag was appointed to one of the biggest roles in world football last summer, the latest man tasked with returning Manchester United to former glories.

The spotlight at Old Trafford is a world away from a modest playing career, spent mostly at FC Twente with three separate spells at the club. Success was limited, though he did claim Dutch football’s second division at De Graafschap and the KNVB Cup with Twente.

He’s had considerably more success since moving into coaching, claiming three consecutive Eredivisie titles with Ajax before moving to Manchester.

Newcastle – Eddie Howe

Eddie Howe made 310 appearances for Bournemouth across two spells with the Cherries, the club that later gave him his managerial break.

Howe’s first spell with the club saw him earn two caps for England at u21 level, before a £400,000 move to Portsmouth as Harry Redknapp made the defender his first signing at Fratton Park.

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It proved a disastrous move however, as Howe suffered a serious knee injury on debut which ended his season. He returned only to suffer another knee issue nine minutes into his first game back and made just two appearances for Pompey in two years at the club.

In 2004, Bournemouth fans created a crowd-fund which raised £21,000 to bring Howe back to the cash-strapped Cherries.

Nottingham Forest – Steve Cooper

Cooper was a defender who spent a modest career in the Welsh football league, turning out for TNS, Rhyl, Bangor City and Porthmadog.

He turned his hand to coaching after retirement and with much success, obtaining his UEFA Pro Lience aged just 27. Cooper had coaching roles with Wrexham and Liverpool before moving into the England set-up, where he led an u-17 side featuring Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Marc Guehi to World Cup success in 2017.

Cooper’s first senior role came at Swansea, before moving to Nottingham Forest in 2021. After inheriting a side bottom of the Championship, he led Forest to promotion in his first season and ended the club’s 23-year exile from the Premier League.

Southampton – Nathan Jones

Nathan Jones made 555 appearances for a range of clubs, taking an unusual route from Welsh football to Spain during the early stages of his career. He represented Badajoz and Numancia before returning to the UK, where his best spell came at Brighton.

Jones spent five seasons with the Seagulls in a period that included three promotions, before finishing his career at Yeovil Town.

Tottenham – Antonio Conte

Antonio Conte became a Juventus legend after spending more than a decade with the Italian giants. Signed from Lecce, he won five league titles, the Champions League and UEFA Cup among an extensive collection of honours in Turin.

A combative midfielder with the same will-to-win now often seen on the Tottenham touchline, Conte also won 20 caps for the Italian national side before moving into coaching upon retirement.

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He has coached Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan to league titles and is now looking to end Spurs’ long wait for silverware, one which stretches back to 2008.

West Ham – David Moyes

David Moyes won a Scottish Premier League title at Celtic during the 1981/82 season, but made just 24 league appearances before leaving the club.

After spells with Cambridge, Bristol City, Shrewsbury, Dunfermline and Hamilton, he ended his playing career with a five-season spell at Preston North End.

The Scot joined the coaching staff at Deepdale upon his retirement and later took on the manager’s role. He led Preston to third-tier promotion and came within a play-off final defeat of back-to-back promotions, before joining Everton in 2002.

Wolves – Julen Lopetugui

Julen Lopetegui is in an exclusive list of players to have represented both Real Madrid and Barcelona, though made a minimal impact at each of the Spanish superpowers.

His best football came during spells at Logroñés and Rayo Vallecano, with the goalkeeper making 149 La Liga appearances over nine seasons. He earned a solitary cap for Spain in 1994 and was included in La Roja’s squad for that summer’s World Cup.

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