The thinking man's player
© FIFA.com

Footballers are rarely seen as intellectuals, but as Thierry Henry so eloquently put it back in 2005: "You have to be clever when it comes to sport in general and football in particular."

True words indeed, and there are plenty of players who prove that football and intelligence can go hand in hand. Some, such as Cameroon's Romarin Billong (Masters degree in financial controlling) and France's Jean-Alain Boumsong (university diploma in Mathematics), have managed to continue their studies despite the considerable demands of playing and training. Others, such as Greece's German-born coach Otto Rehhagel or England goalkeeper David James, have forged a reputation as lovers of the arts or politics. They are all seen as "footballing intellectuals", and FIFA.com decided to take a closer look at the subject.

Grey matter playing for the all whites
The spotlight is back on Real Madrid and their new crop of Galacticos this season, but chairman Florentino Perez's real coup is perhaps the signing of two eminently qualified individuals to his staff, namely his director of football Jorge Valdano and first-team coach Manuel Pellegrini.

The latter, known as El Ingeniero (the Engineer) since he has a civil engineering degree from the Catholic University in Santiago, should be able to hold his own when it comes to debates with his fellow South American. El Filósofo (the Philosopher), as Valdano is known, has written a number of works about the sport and is himself a real bookworm. "I do read a lot," the 1986 FIFA World Cup™-winner said. "This probably comes from the fact that I used to be on my own a lot, and when you've got no-one to talk to, the best form of company is a good book."

In the Madrid dressing room there is also Christoph Metzelder, "who speaks the language of Cervantes better than a lot of native Spaniards" according to Perez. The German defender will no doubt enjoy some intellectual cut-and-thrust with new arrival Esteban Granero, who is a psychology specialist. Los Merengues have a fine tradition of academic players, with Jose Martinez Sanchez, or Pirri as he was known, winning 10 league titles and three Spanish Cups with Real Madrid between 1964 and 1980 before going on to become a doctor, working as part of the team's medical staff in the 1980s.

Doctors and politicians
Pirri is not the only person to swap his boots for a scalpel. Carlos Bilardo, Argentina coach from 1983 to 1990 and also winner of the FIFA World Cup in Mexico, studied to be a gynaecologist during his footballing career. Another South American, Brazil's Socrates, is one of the greatest players in his country's storied history, notching 22 goals in 60 games for the Seleção, many of them as captain. Today he is still an influential figure in Brazil, having become a doctor once his footballing career was over and now regularly giving his opinion on a wide range of subjects, from football to politics.

Speaking of which, politics is quite popular among footballers as a second career, with Germany's Paul Breitner leading the way. The former Bayern Munich stalwart scored in two separate FIFA World Cup Finals (1974 and 1982), and since then has forged a reputation as a straight talker who is not afraid to take a stand. He is a non-conformist to the point of following Maoism and is now as widely known for his intellectual beliefs as for his previous feats on the pitch.

George Weah is another iconic player who went into politics. The Liberian won league titles in France and Italy as well as the Ballon d'Or in 1995, then stood as a presidential candidate in Liberia in 2005, only to come up short with a still impressive 40.4 per cent of the vote. The legendary Pele meanwhile, who won the FIFA World Cup in 1958,1962 and 1970, was Brazilian Minister for Sport from 1994 to 1998, having previously been a UN ambassador for ecology and the environment in 1992.

Football as a business
Other players chose finance over politics, including Paul le Guen. "I'm going to study for an economics degree," he said after making his top-flight debut back in 1984. "If I carry on playing in the first division then this might cause a few problems - I love my studies as much as I love football, and this might come back to haunt me at some point soon." The former Paris-St Germain and Rangers manager not only got his degree but also won the UEFA European Cup Winners' Cup with PSG in 1996 and no fewer than four French league titles.

Former German international striker Oliver Bierhoff and legendary Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger also have economics degrees to go alongside their well-stocked trophy cabinets, but someone who outstrips them both when it comes to academic qualifications is Hassan Harmatallah. This Frenchman of Moroccan origin played for Lens in the 1970s before going on to coach at TSC Casablanca and Wydad Casablanca. Even more impressively, however, he has a doctorate in economics, another in economic policies and analysis, plus a diploma in developmental social science.

Argentinean international Juan Pablo Sorin, who hung up his boots on 28 July this year, was also seen as something of an intellectual. The former wingback once said in an interview that on the day he won his first cap, he went to the ground on the bus, so that he could finish the book he was reading. Then there is Ivan Hasek, who speaks Czech, Slovakian, German, English, French, Arabic and Japanese, and also studied law at Prague University, where he qualified as a solicitor. He is currently putting his grey matter to good use as coach of the Czech team and president of his country's national association.

There are plenty of other footballers who are as successful away from the game as they were on the pitch, including France's Jean-Luc Sassus (chemistry), Spain's Ruben Baraja (physiotherapy) and Juan Manuel Mata (physical education), Germany's Gernot Rohr (linguistics), France's Gerard Houllier (former English teacher) and Iceland's Gudni Bergsson (law). Trinidad goalkeeper Shaka Hislop meanwhile, who enjoyed a successful career from 1992 to 2007, is a former NASA employee!

And you do not always have to study to be seen as intellectual by your team-mates, as Vikash Dhorasoo explains. "The media always need to pin a label on you," the former French international recently told FIFA.com. "There's the funny man, the motivator, the shy one, the intellectual and they decided that I fitted the latter category. I didn't always help me when I was on the pitch, but it certainly came to my aid towards the end of my time as a player. I think that my post-footballing career is going to be a lot longer than my one on the pitch," said Dhorasoo, who since hanging up his boots has represented a number of social and political causes, made regular TV appearances and featured in various poker tournaments.