10 Footballers with Brains to Go with Their Talent

Mr XSenior Writer IJune 17, 2013

10 Footballers with Brains to Go with Their Talent

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    Conventional wisdom dictates that football and intelligence do not go hand in hand. However, no statement could be further from the truth. 

    Intelligent footballers have been around as long as the game itself. They stand out for a variety of reasons and are often misunderstood by their teammates and fans.

    They are intelligent and balanced enough to march to the beat of their own drum and are the true mavericks of the game we love so much. 

    The game has been littered with smart guys like Graeme Le Saux, who suffered homophobic taunts, for reading The Guardian newspaper, having a University degree and for having an interest in antiques. Iain Dowie has a Masters degree in Aeronautical Engineering, Oleguer Presas has a BA in Economics and has authored a number of books, and Gudni Bergsson has a Law degree to name but a few men who furthered their own education either before or after football.

    Here, Bleacher Report looks at 10 footballers with brains to go with their talent and who weren't afraid to stand out from the crowd.

    Which footballers have stood out for you as intelligent?

    Leave your comments, suggestions and thoughts in the section below.


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    Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, or simply Socrates to you and I, is quite rightly the first place to start.

    Named after the Greek philosopher, nicknamed "the doctor" and possibly the best captain never to win a World Cup, the Brazilian footballer was one of the game's most intelligent men.

    He is one of the very few professional footballers who was also a qualified medical doctor. He studied for his doctorate whilst playing football in what must be a unique twist on his education.

    The 60-time capped Brazilian, who passed away aged 57 in 2011, also studied for part of his education in Ireland. For a time he became part of Irish pop-quiz folklore when it was believed he played for University College Dublin in the League of Ireland.

    While "the doctor" did play a little football in the Emerald Isle he did not, unfortunately, play for UCD.

    Looking at the state of Irish football in the '70s, this was probably an intelligent move by the astute and soon-to-be Brazilian captain.


Eamon Dunphy

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    Has there ever been a more charismatic, enigmatic and educated maverick than Eamon Dunphy?

    The former Millwall and York City player began his career with Manchester United and the Busby Babes but failed to make the cut at the highest level.

    He was a midfield-schemer with an honest work rate and achieved little of note as a player. He was, however, intelligent enough to understand that professional football in the '70s was a false and soul-destroying business that spat players out as soon as they were no longer useful.

    Armed with this knowledge, the ex-Ireland international trained himself as a journalist. From there, the now 67-year-old would go on to become one of the most important political, social and football commentators in the British Isles.

    Dunphy is famed for his off-the-cuff remarks, his rapier-like wit and for splitting audiences everywhere with his comments. Just look at the YouTube video accompanying this slide to get a small glimpse of the maestro in action.


Frank Lampard

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    There is little doubt that Frank Lampard is one of the most intelligent players of the modern age.

    The 34-year-old, who recently broke Chelsea's all-time goalscoring record, just signed a new one-year contract at the Blues.

    This was just reward for a player who has played at the highest level of the English game for the last 13 years. 

    Off the field, Lampard is recognized as one of the most intelligent men in the game.

    In 2009, he undertook an IQ test with Mensa and scored one of the highest marks ever recorded. This is hardly surprising considering he has 11 GCSE's including an A in Latin of all languages.

    In February of this year, the English international signed a major book deal with publisher Little Brown to write a series of children's books.

    It would seem that when it comes to intelligence both on and off the pitch Lampard is almost the perfect package.


Paul Breitner

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    Paul Breitner is one of the most charismatic and outspoken personalities the German game has ever produced.

    The legendary full-back made his name playing for the all-conquering Bayern Munich and German sides of the early '70s before he moved to Real Madrid.

    Now in a role at Bayern Munich, and contributing to German television, the former German international is one of only a few men to have scored in two separate World Cup finals.

    Breitner had won everything in the game by the age of 22 and is hailed by many, even considering the great Paulo Maldini, as the greatest left-back to have ever played the game.

    Off the pitch, Breitner was an absolute one of a kind. 

    The importance of education and to be his own person was drummed into him at an early age by his parents. He therefore had to consider Bayern Munich's overtures very carefully before committing to their cause in 1970. Even then he refused to sign a contract past two years because he was studying to be a teacher and wanted to work with disabled children.

    Once at Munich, a notably conservative city, Breitner was unafraid to show his political teeth and interests by openly reading communist books from Mao Zedong and voicing political and social opinions.

    When Real Madrid made an approach for him in 1974, many felt he would reject their audacious bid and wage offer to stay in Germany. Breitner, however, felt he owed it to himself to earn as much money and to learn as much from life as possible. He promptly moved to the Bernabeu.

    Madrid, at the time, were heavily linked with dictator Francisco Franco.

    Der Afro, as he was so lovingly named, then signed one of the first cosmetic deals in world football and shaved off his trademark beard.

    Breitner also starred in a number of awful TV series and a couple of terrible films. 

    Never let it be said that Paul Breitner was not intelligent enough to be his own man.

    Today, Breitner is an intelligent and articulate football analyst who often appears on Irish radio and German TV. 

Clarke Carlisle

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    Clarke Carlisle is one of the most intelligent and important players in the English game.

    The Northampton Town defender in one of a small group of footballers to have appeared on Countdown and won "Britain’s Brainiest Footballer" in 2002.

    The Staffordshire University graduate is a key member of the Players Football Association and acts as an ambassador for the group. He has a prominent role in the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign and has appeared on political and social TV programs like Question Time on BBC.

    In 2012, Carlisle played a major role in a football group that met with the British Prime Minister to discuss racism and homophobia in the sport.

Neil MacKenzie

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    Who is Neil MacKenzie?

    The 37-year-old journeyman footballer has spent almost his entire career in the lower reaches of the game. The highest level he played was with Stoke City in the First Division (the Championship) in 1996.

    It is true that he isn't a household name in the sport, but MacKenzie holds the honor of being the the very first footballer to qualify to participate on Countdown.

    The daytime television show is hugely popular and notoriously difficult. 

    MacKenzie, for his part, won a superb five days in a row and just missed out on joining the small elite who go on to win eight days in a row.

    It is not known if he ever had the nerve to play "Street Countdown"...

Glen Johnson

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    Liverpool's Glen Johnson may rival Frank Lampard for the title of most intelligent player in the Premier League.

    The former Chelsea player is a maths boffin and is known to dedicate two hours per day studying for his maths degree with the Open University.

    Considering that a major part of mathematics is trigonometry and understanding angles, one must therefore ask the question: Why does Johnson take up the wrong defensive position and angle so often?

    From here it seems that the 28-year-old is not applying his coursework to his pitch work.

Steve Coppell

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    Steve Coppell is a bright and intelligent former player and manager.

    The softly spoken Manchester United legend played over 320 times for the Red Devils before moving into management. There he has suffered his own fair share of peaks and troughs. His teams, however, have always followed his philosophy and tried to play the game in the right manner.

    Anyone who has suffered through coaching courses, myself included, knows how difficult it is to be a coach at the highest level. The sheer amount of information a coach must have within touching distance is mind-boggling.

    Each and every coach and top player must be of a certain high footballing intelligence to reach the highest level.

    Coppell started studying for a Economics degree whilst playing for Tranmere Rovers. The winger was then snapped up by Tommy Docherty for United in 1975. However, unlike some of his contemporaries, he refused to give up on his education and, despite playing for United, continued his studies until he achieved his degree.

Shaka Hislop

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    Not many footballers can say they worked for NASA, but Shaka Hislop can.

    The former Trinidad and Tobago international and current ESPN analyst has a degree in Mechanical Engineering and once interned at NASA.

    The Premier League legend played over 450 career games and is one of the most respected foreign imports the English game has ever seen.

    Hislop was one of the pioneering members of the Show Racism the Red Card campaign and won a special Players' Football Association award for his services to football in 2005.

    He is also one of only two non-British members, alongside Pele, to be inducted into the PFA's Roll of Honor.

    Add that to his acedemia, his blog work for The Guardian and his analytical work for ESPN and you get some understanding of an unappreciated legend of the game. 

Juan Mata

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    Juan Mata is an intelligent and articulate player. 

    One only has to study the Spanish playmaker's style of play to understand he is not a normal player.

    The same can be said of his life away from the game of football.

    Mata studied journalism at Universidad Politecnica de Madrid. Now at Chelsea he has embarked upon several distance learning courses, including a sports science degree, physical education and marketing.

    When asked by The Independent about his unusual view towards education, he intelligently replied:

    "I don't think football and studying are mutually exclusive. I am focused on my career but like to enjoy other things, like study for example."

    Education and intelligence can go hand in hand with football.

    When it is combined with footballing intelligence, the player can become almost unstoppable.

    Juan Mata has that potential, and he knows it.

    You can follow me on Twitter @WillieGannon

    And listen to me on the Hold the Back Page podcast.


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