Frank Lampard of Chelsea

    Frank Lampard of Chelsea (Getty)

    Football’s most intelligent players: from Frank Lampard to Socrates

    9 February 2020

    It isn’t difficult to appear intelligent in a sport whose players say things like ‘I’ve been consistent in patches this season’. (Yes, we’re looking at you, Theo Walcott) But some footballers go above and beyond in the little grey cells department. Here’s our guide to the beautiful game’s biggest brains:

    Frank Lampard

    The Chelsea and England legend started early, bagging 12 GCSEs, including Latin, all at A or A*. He has an IQ of ‘well over 150’, putting him nearly level with Einstein (160) and securely in the top 0.1% of the UK population. (Our average is 100.) Lampard also found time, while winning his Premiership, FA Cup and Champions League titles, to pen 20 children’s books and an autobiography.

    This puts some perspective on the reputation of Graeme Le Saux, who previously held the title of ‘brainiest Chelsea player ever’, largely because he read the Guardian.

    Juan Mata

    Manchester United v Crystal Palace, Juan Mata (Getty)

    Like Lampard, Mata is unwilling to settle for on-field success. He holds not one but two degrees (marketing and sports science) from the University of Madrid, having studied for them while playing first at Valencia then at Chelsea. Other graduates include Vincent Kompany (MBA from Manchester Business School), Iain Dowie (Masters in aeronautical engineering) and Slaven Bilic, who took a law degree in case his football career didn’t work out, and when he went into management read psychology textbooks to help him understand his players.

    Andrey Arshavin has a degree in clothing technology: his thesis was entitled ‘Development of Sportswear Manufacturing’, though he loses brainbox points for admitting that he only enrolled at St Petersburg State University of Technology and Design because lots of girls went there. Perhaps the most notable footballing degree is the one in economics and business management awarded in 2015 to Duncan Watmore. Not because it was a first, but because it came from Newcastle University – and Watmore plays for Sunderland.

    Shaka Hislop

    Shaka Hislop of Portsmouth shouts to his team mates

    Shaka Hislop of Portsmouth shouts to his team mates (Getty)

    Shaka worked at NASA. OK, it was only an internship, while he studied for his degree in mechanical engineering at Howard University in Washington DC. And OK, he didn’t understand any of the meetings he attended (‘excuse the pun, it all went over my head’). But still – NASA. It was literally rocket science.

    Romelu Lukaku

    Romelu Lukaku (Getty)

    The Belgian striker is fluent in six languages, which is six more than many footballers. He speaks English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Congolese and Portuguese, learning the last so he could help Brazilian teammates at Anderlecht feel more at home. Another linguist is Petr Cech, who while keeping goal for Arsenal would speak to his defenders – during the same game – in German, Slovak and Czech. But surely the greatest verbal intelligence was shown by Notts County midfielder Neil MacKenzie, who in 2008 became the first footballer ever to appear on the Channel 4 show Countdown. He won five episodes. Associate producer Kate Horton praised his ‘broad vocabulary’.

    Mathieu Flamini

    Mathieu Flamini of AC Milan

    Mathieu Flamini during his time at AC Milan (Getty)

    The former Arsenal and AC Milan player is enjoying a successful business career, having co-founded GF Biochemicals with (in his words) ‘the ambition of finding sustainable alternatives to oil-based products’. It was the first company in the world to mass produce levulinic acid, which is used in herbicides and cosmetics. Also well-placed to succeed in business is Didier Drogba: the Ivory Coast star is a qualified accountant. So adored is he in his home country that Drogba has even been spoken of as a possible future president. But it’s a position he says he doesn’t want – thereby proving his intelligence once and for all.

    David James

    David James playing for Portsmouth (Getty)

    David James playing for Portsmouth (Getty)

    Footballers’ invective tends to rely heavily on single-syllable words, many of them related to the human reproductive organs. David James, the Liverpool and England keeper known for his entertainingly eloquent interviews, took things to a rather loftier level when Paolo di Canio called him a ‘cretin’. ‘Does this man not know the meaning of “cretin”?’ responded James. ‘He clearly doesn’t. A cretin suffers from a thyroid deficiency. It comes from an eighteenth century French word, and was initially directed at people living in the valleys of the Alps and the Pyrenees. In some cases it is said to lead to dwarfism. I’m six foot five.’


    Socrates (Getty)

    You probably think we’re including the captain of Brazil’s 1982 World Cup team as a feeble joke, simply because he shared a name with the ancient Greek philosopher. But actually when Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira retired from football, he became Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira MD. Yes, the midfielder qualified – and practised – as a doctor. But merely swapping the yellow shirt for a white coat wasn’t enough: Socrates also founded a political movement (Corinthians Democracy) to oppose Brazil’s military government. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘come to the party’.