Some of these stars have also pursued academic excellence apart from the sport.
Dutch football legend Johan Cruyff once quoted, “You play football with your head, and your legs are there to help you.”
Though Cruyff’s words describe more about the game on field, they have wider implications. A footballer’s professional career is relatively short-lived; most retire around the age of 35. Some players turn towards coaching to stay in the sport, while some plunge into punditry.
Beginning a professional career at a very young age, most footballers give up academic education after school. However, there have been several renowned players over the years, who have gone on to complete a certain degree of education. Former Premier League stars Shaka Hislop, Glenn Johnson, Edwin van der Sar, Andrey Arshavin have all completed their graduation in different streams.
That said, let’s have a look at some of the most educated footballers in currently plying their trade.
10. Fikayo Tomori
Many Chelsea and AC Milan fans look at Fikayo Tomori as the next big thing in football. The 23-year-old centre-back recently moved to the Serie A giants on loan with an option to buy and has made 10 appearances since for the Rossoneri.
Despite being an influential defender, the youngster has a contingency plan apart from football too. Tomori enrolled for a business management degree with the Open University during his time with the Blues in 2019 and sees it as an option if a career in football doesn’t work out. At Gravesend Grammar School, the English national is highly-regarded by his mentors as a ‘bright’ student.
9. Romelu Lukaku
Ever since his move to Inter Milan from Manchester United, Belgian ace Romelu Lukaku has been in a form of his life. In the ongoing season, the forward has netted 21 times in 30 Serie A appearances as the Nerazzurri are on their way to win their first Scudetto after more than a decade.
However, there’s more to Lukaku than what meets the eye. The 27-year-old holds a graduate degree in Public Relations. In addition, he is also a polyglot who speaks fluent English, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, French and Congolese.
8. Simon Mignolet
Widely known for his heroics with Liverpool FC, Simon Mignolet was one of the top goalkeepers in the world in his day. However, it is rather unknown to many that Mignolet, similar to his compatriot Lukaku is fluent in five languages – German, Dutch, English, French and native Flemish. Moreover, he holds a degree in Political Science and Law which he obtained from the University of Leuven. This makes him one of the most educated footballers in the world.
In a 2013 interview with Daily Mail, Mignolet was quoted as saying, “When I started playing, my parents told me to go to university,’ he added. ‘They just said choose wisely and find something you can combine with training. It was not because of an interest in politics. It was to have something behind me in case something went wrong.”
7. Juan Mata
Juan Mata is one of the most senior players at Manchester United. Apart from having a great playing career, he is also a highly-educated scholar. The 31-year-old has two bachelor’s degrees from the Universidad Camilo Jose Cela in Madrid. One is in Sports Science and the other in Marketing.
He earned both degrees while he was rocking on the pitch for his former sides Valencia and Chelsea. While the Spaniard might venture into coaching after retirement , he has also expressed interest to pursue psychology. Evidently a maestro on and off the pitch!
6. Andres Iniesta
Regarded as one of the best players ever to grace the game, Andres Iniesta is nothing less than a legend in Spain and Catalonia. Currently at the fag end of his career, the Spaniard has almost every major accolade as a player to his name – domestic or international.
Interestingly, the former FIFA World Cup winner isn’t just a visionary on the pitch, but also a scholar off it. Iniesta holds a double degree – one in Biology and the other in Sports Science. Thus, the 36-year-old midfield maestro is nothing less than an idol to many upcoming young footballers in the world.
5. Yuto Nagatomo
Japanese international Yuto Nagatomo, who too had a seven-year stint at Inter Milan is among the most educated footballers in the world. The 34-year-old has completed degree education in economics from the University of Meiji. Surprised yet? Nagatomo is also the author of two books on modern economics.
As intelligent he is off the pitch, the full-back has also endured a distinguished career in football, featuring for several decorated clubs. Starting out with the university football team, Nagatomo has played for FC Tokyo, Cesena, Galatasaray and currently plies his trade with Olympique Marseille. During his time with the Nerazzurri in 2013, he won the award for the Asian Footballer of the Year.
4. Frank Lampard
Frank Lampard – brilliant on the pitch, brilliant off it! The Chelsea legend was part of England’s ‘Golden Generation’ and easily one of the best midfielders across Europe in his day. His three Premier League titles, along with a UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and two England Player of the Year awards speak for themselves.
What would surprise many is that Lampard’s IQ is well above 150, which places him in the top 0.5% of the world population and thus one of the most educated footballers in history. Moreover, he completed his graduation in the Brentwood School in Essex with 11 GCSEs including an A grade in Latin. Quite simply, the former Blues boss is one of the rare brilliant minds in football.
3. Duncan Watmore
Currently playing with English Championship side Middlesbrough, Duncan Watmore is one of the only two Premier League players to achieve a first-class honours degree. In 2015, the then 21-year-old who plied his trade for Sunderland AFC graduated with a degree in Economics and Business Management from Newcastle University Business School.
Later, the former Barclays U-21 Premier League Player of the Year also enrolled for a two-year Master’s course in International Leadership, Business and Management. “Football is a very short-term career and I always have my eye on what I want to do next and I thought having a university degree and studying could help,” says Watmore.
2. Vincent Kompany
Former Manchester City captain reserves a special place in fans’ with his years of service and determination. As a four-time Premier League winner, Kompany was one of the most fearfully respected defenders in the competition. What is even more admirable about the Belgian is that he has been a scholar off the pitch.
In 2017, Vincent Kompany completed his graduation from Alliance Manchester Business School followed by a Master’s in Business Administration. In 2019, the University of Manchester awarded him with an honorary doctorate. Currently the manager of his boyhood club Anderlecht, the 35-year-old holds high among the highly-educated in the industry.
1. Giorgio Chiellini
Italy and Juventus legend Giorgio Chiellini is known to many as one of the fiercest defenders in the world. What might be unknown is the fact that the 36-year-old is quite an intellectual off the field too.
The nine-time Serie A winner completed his graduation in economics and commerce from the University of Turin in 2010. Years later, he went a step higher to acquire a Master’s degree in the same course.
“We have to encourage more football players to study and increase the number with university degrees. Because life is long,” Chiellini told world players’ union FIFPro in 2018.