Some of the most cunning minds in world football ply their trade in the Premier League. Tactical geniuses and skilled motivators roam the sidelines, trying to concoct plans to stop – or bring the best out of – players who always seem to be one step ahead of their opposition.
But whose brainy exploits shine brightest? Here are the three smartest minds in the Premier League.
Club: Manchester City
Age: 45 | Exp: 11 years
The revered Spanish tactician arrived in England to much fanfare this summer, assuming the reins at Manchester City after trophy-laden spells at Bayern Munich and Barcelona, where he honed his craft and established a reputation as the best manager on the planet.
Renowned for his intense dedication – which borders on an obsession for perfection – Guardiola has left his mark on many who have had the privilege of working under his tutelage.
But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what his players, both former and current, have to say about Pep Guardiola.
Ilkay Gundogan: “(Guardiola) is more like a genius who reads the game and covers every situation imaginable. Pep is always showing us how to create space and find solutions and there is no manager like him …”
Toni Kroos: “(Guardiola) was the best coach I ever had in terms of his football ideas, his plans for playing against sides and presenting solutions to his own team.”
Fabian Delph: “The first three weeks (with Guardiola) have been amazing. I’ve learned more than I have throughout my whole career.”
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Club: Manchester United
Age: 28 | Exp: 10 years
Articulate and thoughtful, Juan Mata belies conventional wisdom about professional athletes.
His move from his native Spain to England in 2011 – when he made the switch from Valencia and the comforts of home to Chelsea and the bustle of London – would have been an easy excuse to put his world off the pitch on hold.
Not quite. During his time at Stamford Bridge, Mata – who studied journalism at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid – used long-distance courses to work towards degrees in sports science, physical education, and marketing.
“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,” he said of his scholarly exploits.
Not gifted with blistering pace or imposing size, the Manchester United midfielder showcases his footballing intellect on the regular, able to infiltrate pockets of space and play clever passes before the opposition is awake to what he’s thinking.
Age: 66 | Exp: 32 years
A titan of the sport, the enduring Frenchman revolutionised English football upon his arrival at Arsenal in 1996. Wenger’s implementation of new diets and training techniques for his players set a standard that is adhered to today.
Easily the longest-serving bench boss in the Premier League, Wenger is lauded for both his ideals – his Gunners play some of Europe’s most attractive football – and his studious, almost philosophical, approach to the game.
A champion of foreign scouting and youth development, Wenger has described his policy of trusting homegrown academy talents and giving them a chance to flourish as “an idealistic vision of the world of football.”
Away from the pitch, the list of accolades is as extensive as it is impressive.
The lithe 66-year-old owns a master’s degree in economics from the University of Strasbourg, the citywhere he was born; he’s speaks six languages (French, German, English, Spanish, Italian – and even some Japanese); and he’s been decorated with some of the highest individual honours one can win in both France (Legion d’Honneur) and England (OBE).
In truth, we should expect nothing less from a man dubbed “Le Professeur.”
Among his peers, he truly does seem to be overqualified for his current position. Surely, Wenger’s pursuit of knowledge across various fields means he is too smart to simply be a football manager.
When posed with that very sentiment in an interview with Charles Nevin of the Independent, his response was simple: “You can never be intelligent enough.”
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