We are about to find out just how good the managers of the 24 nations at this summer’s European Championship are, but what about their playing careers?

From the youngest (Germany’s Julian Nagelsmann, aged 36) to the oldest (Austria’s Ralf Rangnick, aged 65) and everyone in between, they all have a back story, no matter how impressive or awful. But who won trophies? Who played for their country? Who missed a sudden-death penalty in a European Championship semi-final against Germany at Wembley in 1996 (you can probably guess that one)?

Let The Athletic be your guide to the playing careers of the Euro 2024 managers.


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No offence to the guy, but anyone reading this who has ever played to a decent standard, you might be a better player than Belgium’s manager was. Born in Italy but raised in Germany, Tedesco briefly played for ASV Aichwald at the eighth level of German football before making the extremely wise decision to give that up, as well as his job as an industrial engineer, to coach the kids down the road at Stuttgart, the area’s biggest club.

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Being captain of 1860 Munich’s under-19s team was as good as it got for Nagelsmann. Though we will never know how good the Germany manager could have been, as he retired aged 20 due to a serious knee injury. To be fair, the management thing has worked out OK.

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Another who retired early because of a knee injury, at 26 in his case, midfielder Hjulmand followed a well-trodden path a few years earlier when he moved from Herlev, a lower-league club in Denmark’s capital Copenhagen to play in the U.S. college game for the University of North Florida’s soccer team, the Ospreys, in 1994.

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Undoubtedly the person on our list with the least experience as a professional player, or manager. The 55-year-old Slovakia boss, who was also in charge of Serie A champions Napoli for the final few months of the season just ended, has only been a manager for a couple of years, after previously being a long-time assistant under Maurizio Sarri and then Luciano Spalletti. As a player, Calzona on legs (very niche Sopranos reference, there, you’re quite welcome) played just a handful of times in midfield for Arezzo in Serie B in the 1980s before spending the 1990s as coach of amateurs Tegoleto in Italy’s sixth tier while running a coffee business.

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A fairly short playing career was over by the time the current Austria manager turned 30, after he realised he had more talent for coaching than playing. Rangnick was a defensive midfielder who (this being Germany in the 1970s/980s) had a fluffy haircut and a dodgy moustache. He played for teams such as Stuttgart and Southwick FC… hang on. Sorry, what? Yep, Rangnick played 11 times for the Sussex County Division One team in 1979-80 while studying at the University of Sussex (English and PE degree). He made his debut against Steyning Town and after a ”tackle from behind” broke three ribs and punctured a lung, spent the next four months in hospital. That aside, he loved his time there, saying it shaped who he became (well yeah, he was three ribs down). Rangnick gave £1,000 to the club during the pandemic.

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Came through the ranks at FCSB (that’s Steaua Bucharest to you and I) following in the footsteps of his father Anghel (a legendary former striker and the club’s record goalscorer, who has had three spells as Romania’s manager himself). Unfortunately, the current Romania boss left Steaua, as they were still called then, after barely playing a game and became a journeyman midfielder in his homeland for the likes of Focsani and Rocar Bucharest.

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A defensive midfielder who didn’t make the grade at Hajduk Split, so he spent most of his career at the now-defunct NK Varteks (which was the name of a clothing-company sponsor and not a place, so they weren’t dancing in the streets of Varteks, etc). Safe to say, with a 2018 World Cup final and 2022 World Cup third place among his achievements with Croatia, Dalic’s managerial career has been the greater success.

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Most of you will know already, but just to clue in our football novices, imposing left-footed centre-back Kek bookended his career at hometown club Maribor in Slovenia, heading to Austria in between spells with Spittal/Drau and Grazer AK. He also, famously, won one Slovenia cap in a friendly against Cyprus in 1992. Now he manages Slovenia.

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Central midfielder who spent most of his career with Gornik Zabrze, Poland’s joint-second most successful club of all time alongside Ruch Chorzow (he played for them for a bit too). Since retiring, the Poland manager has been in charge of nine clubs in his homeland, including Jagiellonia Bialystok and Bruk-Bet Termalica, a couple of them twice. There will be a test on this in five minutes.

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A remarkable coach who had an unremarkable decade-long playing career as a jobbing midfielder in the Italian lower leagues, lining up for Castelfiorentino, Entella, Spezia and Viareggio before ending his playing days with Empoli in the early 1990s. It was there that his managerial days started, and he took Empoli from Serie C to Serie A via back-to-back promotions in 1996 and 1997.

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Italian defender who once cost 2.5 billion (wow!) lira (oh). That’s about £400,000. Anyway, Rossi spent five years at Brescia, mostly in Serie B, then earned the aforementioned move to Sampdoria, where he played for a couple of seasons alongside Ruud Gullit, Roberto Mancini and David Platt before another big career move to America (wow!), as in Club America in Mexico (oh). He’ll be in the Hungary dugout at the Euros.

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Martinez took an unusual and career-defining decision when he moved from fourth-tier Spanish club Balaguer to fourth-tier English club Wigan Athletic in 1995. Over the next six seasons, he played 227 times in midfield for Wigan, was twice named in the Division Three team of the year and helped them win promotion to Division Two (now League One). Later completed the same feat with Swansea City who, along with Wigan, he went on to manage. He’s stepped it up since, winning the FA Cup with then Premier League Wigan in 2013, managing Everton in the same division and coaching Belgium and now Portugal at international level.

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Accomplished left-back who was part of Athletic Bilbao’s famous title-winning teams in 1983 and 1984, the last time the Basque club were champions of La Liga. The now Spain manager was only 21 at the time of that first title, having come through the youth ranks at Athletic. He went on to play more than 200 times for them over two spells with a four-year stay at Sevilla in between. De la Fuente played for Spain at youth level, including in the 1988 Olympics, but never the senior side.

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A two-club man, with those clubs being St Mirren in his native Scotland and Chelsea. Clarke moved to Stamford Bridge in January 1987 and stayed in the squad there for 11 years, playing 421 times, mostly at right-back, and earning a place in the club’s all-time XI (in a back four with John Terry, Marcel Desailly and Graeme Le Saux, as voted in 2005 to mark their centenary). His major club honours all came at the end of his career, winning the FA Cup in 1997 and the League Cup and (in his final appearance at age 34) the now defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1998. Peculiarly, he only played six times for Scotland, who he now manages, over seven years.

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The first Brazilian ever at Arsenal in 1999 (just as Brazilians were coming into fashion), ousting Nigel Winterburn as their left-back. So good was Sylvinho, he was voted into the Professional Footballers’ Association team of the year for 2000-01, but he was then ousted himself by academy graduate Ashley Cole and sold to Spain’s Celta Vigo, then moved on to Barcelona, where his last match was the 2009 Champions League final win against Manchester United. Six Brazil caps, two Champions Leagues, three La Liga titles and a couple of Brazilian ones with Corinthians before coming to Europe. Not bad at all for the Albania manager.

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He and younger brother Hakan, a forward, are regarded as two of Switzerland’s best players of recent decades. Murat was a reliable centre-back who won the Swiss title with Zurich club Grasshoppers as a youngster in 1995 and 1996, then played for Stuttgart in Germany and Turkey’s Fenerbahce before ending his career back home as captain and libero at Basel, where he won another three titles. He earned 49 caps, including playing every minute of their three games at Euro 2004, before becoming their manager in 2021.

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Split his playing days almost equally between three clubs – Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough – and with the latter he earned legendary status by becoming their first (and to date, only) captain to lift a major trophy, namely the 2004 League Cup. Southgate, as he is in management, was consistent, reliable, dignified and a leader. Captained Palace at 23 (playing in midfield) before moving to centre-back at Villa and thriving thereafter. Nicknames included The Gate. Or Harry. Fifty-seven England caps. Couldn’t take penalties.

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Once cost Tottenham Hotspur £11million at a time when that was a lot of money. Prolific striker in Ukraine, where he is the second top scorer in the league’s history with 123 goals. Less so at Spurs (16 in 75 appearances), where he told boss Glenn Hoddle, “I want to move to a club where I feel like a player”, or subsequently at London rivals West Ham (two in 32 — mostly in the second-tier Championship). Won nine Ukrainian titles with Dynamo Kyiv, where he formed half of a ridiculously goal-heavy partnership with Andriy Shevchenko. Very serious about amateur radio and would use Morse code to chat with people around the world. Today’s Ukraine manager has now sadly fallen into line with modern society and progressed to WhatsApp.

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Hasek led a golden generation of Czechoslovakian footballers in the late 1980s/early 1990s. At club level, today’s Czech Republic manager helped Sparta Prague win the title eight times (as a midfielder who scored 63 times for them across two spells) and was named Czech footballer of the year in 1987 and 1988. At international level, he captained his country to the 1990 World Cup, where they lost 1-0 to eventual champions West Germany in the quarter-finals.

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Five league titles with Bayern Munich, which you might think is easy money, but ask Harry Kane, et cetera. Also won the Champions League in his first season in Bavaria. Just missed the boat for France’s World Cup and European Championship wins in 1998 and 2000 because he was young and there was this Lilian Thuram guy. Went on to win 58 caps and was France’s right-back at the 2006 World Cup — like these Euros, also in Germany — playing every minute of every game, including the final they lost to Italy on penalties. How any of this leads to him being manager of Georgia these days is unknown, but he’s doing rather well at it.

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Revered at Roma, where he scored 102 goals (including four in one match against hated local rivals Lazio) and helped them win their most recent Scudetto in 2001 (other forwards in that squad; Gabriel Batistuta, Francesco Totti, Marco Delvecchio, Abel Balbo, blimey). Roma had paid 50 billion (wow) lira (oh sorry, we’ve already done that one) to buy him from Sampdoria, where he had scored 42 goals across two Serie A seasons — a spicy meatball in the 1990s. Nicknamed ‘aeroplanino’, because he was below average height and celebrated with outstretched arms. Left-footed, gifted and quick. And the Turkey manager for Euro 2024 is one of only two strikers on this list, along with Rebrov.

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The OG water carrier (le porteur d’eau) back when Claude Makelele wasn’t yet a twinkle his mother’s eye (surprising fact: Makelele is actually only four years younger than him). Deschamps, the ultimate team player who caused others to thrive, did it all; captaining his country to winning the World Cup (1998) and the Euros (2000), having already lifted the Champions League with Juventus in 1996. Oh, and he also won the Champions League and two domestic titles with Marseille, an FA Cup with Chelsea and Serie A three times at Juventus, plus he was voted French footballer of the year in 1996 and named the country’s ninth best player of the 20th century. After guiding France to another World Cup as their manager in 2018, he basically became immortal.

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Maverick attacking midfielder and playmaker whose primary aim was to entertain, to dribble and to make fools of mortal defenders. Which he did a lot. The man nicknamed Piksi was part of the gifted Yugoslavia generation of the late 1980s and early 1990s, along with Dejan Savicevic, Alen Boksic, Robert Prosinecki and Sinisa Mihajlovic. Stojkovic and Yugoslavia reached the 1990 World Cup’s quarter-finals (losing to eventual finalists Argentina on penalties) and he is an all-time hero at both Red Star Belgrade, in Serbia, and Japan’s Nagoya Grampus, who he played for and later managed. Stojkovic may not have won as many trophies as Deschamps, but when his former manager Arsene Wenger was once asked (pre-Arsenal) about the best players he had ever coached, he named the ”exceptional” Stojkovic in his top three with Glenn Hoddle and George Weah. Today’s Serbia manager was a genius from a bygone era.

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For a peak mixture of trophies and talent, Dutch maestro Koeman takes our top spot. Trophies – one European Championship, two European Cups/Champions Leagues (one with PSV Eindhoven, one with Barcelona), four Eredivisie titles (one Ajax, three PSV), four La Liga wins with Barca, twice voted Dutch footballer of the year, at a time when Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkjaard were about, and into a couple of Ballon d’Or top 10s. Talent – scored the winner in the 1992 European Cup final at Wembley, joint top scorer in the 1993-94 Champions League (while playing at the back), exceptional shooting ability, pinpoint passing range, a master of reading the game and a scorer of many free kicks and penalties. In fact, despite playing much of his career as a defender or sweeper, today’s Netherlands manager scored 239 goals in 685 club appearances. Amazing.

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(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)

Zrodlo