You know you’re getting old when every managerial appointment brings with it memories of baggy kits, outdated haircuts and an exclamation of ‘Oh! I remember him as a player’.
But imagine a parallel universe in which these coaches were able to call upon themselves. Steve Bruce shoring up his Newcastle defence with the addition of prime Steve Bruce, Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer bringing Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer off the bench in search of a late winner and Nuno Espirito Santos trying to keep Nuno Espirito Santos happy despite a season spent playing understudy to Rui Patricio.
In this world, how much would the game’s most elite managers improve their current sides as players, operating in the same systems they favour as coaches?
Zinedine Zidane – Real Madrid
Zinedine Zidane the coach is famously fluid when it comes to tactics, favouring a blend of 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1, 4-1-2-1-2 and 4-3-3 depending on the situation, but he would find room for Zidane the player whatever the setup.
Balance is something Zidane lacked throughout his playing career as a Galactico- it’s telling that he failed to win anything with Madrid following Claude Makelele’s departure to Chelsea- but as a coach he’s tended to ignore names and reputation in search of stability.
Playing at the top of the diamond with Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde and Casemiro for company would provide the optimal surroundings for the Frenchman’s artistic flair to flourish, but he’d be equally at home in a midfield three alongside Kroos and Luka Modric.
But if you think Mesut Ozil divides social media with his languid approach to the game, wait until Twitter gets a hold of Zidane floating around for 90 minutes.
Diego Simeone – Atletico Madrid
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them. Genesis 1:27 was clearly written with Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid side in mind.
Atletico are such a vivid reflection of their manager that it’s always a shock when they don’t come out in full black suits, ranting and raving like deranged hitmen.
The sight of Simeone the player lining up in Simeone the manager’s brutally watertight 4-4-2 would instantly render certain opponents helpless, flopping around on the floor like condemned
Simeone in 1998 fish at a Friday food market.
It’s probably best for everyone if he stays on the sidelines.
Pep Guardiola – Man City
In 1992, you didn’t play at the base of a Johan Cruyff midfield unless you were to football what Garry Kasparov was to chess, pre the IBM supercomputer.
In 2020, you don’t play at the base of a Pep Guardiola midfield unless you are to football what Garry Kasparov was to chess, pre the IBM supercomputer.
Guardiola the player had the footballing IQ of a genius and it appears, on the evidence of eight league titles in 11 years across three different countries, that the same applies to Guardiola the manager.
The Spaniard would obviously flourish at the base of his own midfield, the only issue would be how long one of his infamous pitchside dressing downs to himself would go on for.
Carlo Ancelotti – Everton
I’ll confess, I’ve got no idea how good Carlo Ancelotti was as a player.
Judging by his resumé- two European Cups and two Serie A titles at AC Milan, a further Serie A title and four Coppa Italias at Roma and 26 caps for Italy- he was handy.
But forget Ancelotti the player, Ancelotti the manager could do a better job in the centre of Everton’s midfield than Fabian Delph, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Morgan Schneiderlin and Tom Davies have managed this season.
The smoking habit he’s had since the age of 25 might limit his mobility, but Delph can do all the running for him.
Jurgen Klopp – Liverpool
To play for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side you need to be technically excellent, physically herculean and mentally mobile enough to operate in different areas of the pitch.
Because of that, Klopp the player- all 6ft 4in of German second tier flesh- would have struggled to function under Klopp the manager, although he was able to swap from centre-back to striker for Mainz if and when required.
Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip wouldn’t be having sleepless about a young Klopp taking their place.
As for Dejan Lovren, best to get the Night Nurse in just to be safe.
Jose Mourinho – Spurs
“And because you never wore short you don’t know that these situations happen.” With that line, Sergio Ramos emasculated Jose Mourinho like never before.
Ramos was referring to Mourinho’s playing career, or lack of, which never got past Portuguese club academy level due to a reported ‘lack of pace and power’.
When you think of Mourinho’s best sides- Porto 03/04, Chelsea 04/05, Inter Milan 09/10- their ability to hammer you in a physical battle or obliterate you with scintillating speed, often at the same time, was frightening.
While his current Spurs outfit is by no means a vintage Mourinho XI, Mourinho the player would still be fetching the water and cleaning the kit.
Marcelo Bielsa – Leeds
The only manager on this list to have a major stadium named in his honour, Marcelo Bielsa’s playing career was limited to 100-odd appearances for Newell’s Old Boys, Instituto and Argentino de Rosario.
Given some of the best players in world football have failed to cut it under Bielsa’s highly-individual coaching methods, Bielsa the player wouldn’t have had a chance of lining up in the Argentine’s famed 3-3-3-1 formation.
That being said, you never know with Bielsa’s magic.
Three months spent working with himself and we might be looking at the next Gabriel Batistuta.
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