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Which Current Premier League Manager was the Best Player?

There are undoubtedly many great football managers currently plying their trade in the Premier League in England. But, before hanging up their boots, which of the current crop of EPL managers was the best player? In this article, we’ll answer that question using a mixture of statistical analysis and good old-fashioned subjective opinion.

Current Premier League Managers

So let’s take a look at the runners and riders as we run through the current crop of Premier League bosses (as of November 2023) and show which sides they played for and which (if any) major trophies they won in their playing days.

  • Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
    • Clubs: Rangers, Real Sociedad, Everton, Arsenal
    • Major trophies: Scottish Premier League, Scottish League Cup, FA Cup (x2)
  • Unai Emery (Aston Villa)
    • Clubs: Real Sociedad, Toledo, Racing Ferrol, Leganés
    • Major trophies: None
  • Andoni Iraola (Bournemouth)
    • Clubs: Basconia, Bilbao Athletic, Athletic Bilbao, New York City
    • Major trophies: None
  • Thomas Frank (Brentford)
    • Clubs: Frederiksværk BK (amateur)
    • Major trophies: None
  • Roberto De Zerbi (Brighton and Hove Albion)
    • Played for: Foggia, Arezzo, Catania, Napoli, CFR Cluj
    • Major trophies: Romanian title (x2)
  • Vincent Kompany (Burnley)
    • Clubs: Anderlecht, Hamburger SV, Manchester City
    • Major trophies: Belgian First Division, Premier League (x4), FA Cup (x2), League Cup (x4)
  • Mauricio Pochettino (Chelsea)
    • Clubs: Newell’s Old Boys, Espanyol, Paris Saint-Germain, Bordeaux
    • Major trophies: Argentine titles (x2), Copa del Rey (x2)
  • Roy Hodgson (Crystal Palace)
    • Clubs: Gravesend & Northfleet
    • Major trophies: None
  • Sean Dyche (Everton)
    • Clubs: Chesterfield, Millwall, Watford, Northampton Town
    • Major trophies: None
  • Marco Silva (Fulham)
    • Clubs: Trofense, Estoril
    • Major trophies: None
  • Jürgen Klopp (Liverpool)
    • Clubs: Mainz 05
    • Major trophies: None
  • Rob Edwards (Luton Town)
    • Clubs: Wolverhampton Wanderers, Blackpool
    • Major trophies: Championship Play-Off winner
  • Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
    • Clubs: Barcelona, Brescia, Roma
    • Major trophies: La Liga (x6), Copa del Rey (x2), European Cup, UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, European Super Cup, Olympic Gold Medal
  • Erik ten Hag (Manchester United)
    • Clubs: De Graafschap, Utrecht, Twente
    • Major trophies: Dutch KNVB Cup, Dutch Eerste Divisie
  • Eddie Howe (Newcastle United)
    • Clubs: Bournemouth
    • Major trophies: None
  • Steve Cooper (Nottingham Forest)
    • Clubs: Bangor City
    • Major trophies: None
  • Paul Heckingbottom (Sheffield United)
    • Clubs: Darlington, Bradford City, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley
    • Major trophies: None
  • Ange Postecoglou (Tottenham Hotspur)
    • Clubs: South Melbourne
    • Major trophies: Australian titles (x2), Trans-Tasman Cup
  • David Moyes (West Ham United)
    • Clubs: Celtic, Cambridge United, Bristol City, Dunfermline Athletic, Preston North End
    • Major trophies: Scottish Premier Division
  • Gary O’Neil (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
    • Clubs: Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, West Ham United, Norwich City
    • Major trophies: Championship Play-off winner

It is striking from the information in the list above that the majority of managers currently attempting to guide their teams to major trophies never won any when they were playing. Of the 20 managers, 10 basically won nothing (we’re not counting lower league titles in England or more obscure foreign cups and so on), while others won ‘major’ titles in countries whose leagues are considered a lower standard than the EPL (like Australia, Romania and Netherlands).

Some of the managers never really played what would be regarded as top-level football at all. Steve Cooper, for instance, made around 60 appearances for Bangor City and a handful more for the likes of Rhly and the New Saints FC. As distinguished as Roy Hodgson’s managerial career has been, the highlight of the former England boss’s playing career was his 60 or so games for Gravesend and Northfleet. Current Brentford boss Thomas Frank, meanwhile, only played for a Danish amateur side (Frederiksværk BK) before turning his hand to coaching.

Of course, there have been some very decent players who’ve landed jobs as managers in the Premier League, so let’s pick out the ones we think were the best players among them.

The Contenders for Best Player

Having picked through the various statistics for the playing careers of the current EPL managers, we’ve concluded that there were really only three world-class players: Pep Guardiola, Vincent Kompany and Mikel Arteta. It is interesting that each has a connection to Manchester City: obviously, Pep is the current boss, while Kompany played there for more than a decade and Arteta began his coaching career at the club (under Guardiola). But which of them was the best player? Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Pep Guardiola

  • Position – Defensive Midfielder
  • Club Appearances – 524
  • Club Goals – 28
  • International Appearances (Spain) – 47
  • International Goals – 5

Guardiola was a thoughtful, decisive and calm player who was able to read the game extremely well and help his side gain the upper hand. Most associated with Barcelona (with whom he won six league titles and the 1992 European Cup, among other things), the man from Catalonia also won an Olympic gold medal for Spain in Barcelona in 1992. Unfortunately for Pep, he retired before Spain had their fantastic run on the international scene (when they won the World Cup and two European Championships in quick succession) but he was part of the side that set the foundations upon which the later sides were built.

Clearly a man up for a challenge, Pep’s time playing in Italy was not quite as successful in terms of silverware, but it gave him valuable experience in different leagues that he would utilise when turning to management in subsequent years. Although perhaps not one of Spain’s all-time greats, he was certainly a very good player.

Mikel Arteta

  • Position – Midfielder
  • Club Appearances – 539
  • Club Goals – 74
  • International Appearances – 0
  • International Goals – 0

It is surprising to many that despite being so highly rated by fans and pundits in England, Arteta never gained a senior cap for Spain. At one point there was talk of him qualifying to play for England instead, but that never materialised and instead the the closest he got to the Spanish senior side was playing for Spain’s under-21s. The fact that Spain had a glut of exceptional midfielders at the time explains things to an extent, as most players would struggle to get picked ahead of the likes of Xavi, Xabi Alonso, Cesc Fàbregas, Andrés Iniesta or Sergio Busquets.

Despite his lack of international experience, Arteta was a key player for Arsenal and even more so for Everton in his time at Goodison Park. There is a feeling that had the Spaniard left the Toffees sooner, he might have picked up more silverware, but irrespective of that, the quality of his passing and his clear footballing brain helped him stand out as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League at the time. He was voted Everton’s Player of the Season twice and Everton Players’ Player of the Season once. He never won the Premier League, however, which is something he means to put right now he’s the manager at his old club Arsenal.

Vincent Kompany

  • Position – Centre Back
  • Club Appearances – 532
  • Club Goals – 31
  • International Appearances (Belgium) – 89
  • International Goals – 4

An ultra-reliable defender and inspirational leader on the pitch, it was not a surprise when Kompany turned his hand to management upon hanging up his boots. He’s also been a winner throughout his career, helping Anderlecht to two Belgian titles before winning numerous trophies with Man City (four Premier League titles, two FA Cups, four League Cups and two Community Shields).

His international career was also outstanding and he won 89 caps for Belgium and helped them to a third-place finish at the 2018 World Cup. He’s won various individual awards too including Man City’s Players’ Player of the Season, the Premier League Player of the Season (2011/12) and, strangely for a defender, he even scored what Match of the Day decided was the goal of the season in the 2018/19 season.

Best Player: Kompany Edges It Ahead of Former Boss

Vincent Kompany Playing for Manchester City
Image: Photo Works, Bigstock Photo

All things considered, we think that Vincent Kompany deserves our vote as the best player of the current EPL managers, just ahead of his former Man City boss, Pep Guardiola. Arteta isn’t far behind, but Kompany’s consistency, leadership and never-say-die attitude means he always lifted his side to accomplish great things.