Academico FC: Picking an XI Consisting of the World’s Smartest Players

When you’re a footballer, you’re not just blessed with unfathomable amounts of fortune and fame, but the nature of the job means you find yourself with a hell of a lot of free time on your hands as well. And believe it or not, not all footballers whittle away the hours playing FIFA, posting inanities on social media or eating at Wing’s either, you cynical old so and so.

There are some players out there who choose to spend the time when they’re travelling to a game or in-between training sessions to expand their mind a tad. See kids, for these guys it’s not just about being a top class footballer, being top of the class can prove just as rewarding, too.

And if we’re being completely honest, being a footballer is notoriously a short-lived career, so it’s always wise to have a plan B.

So in a bid to build some kind of elite footballing Mensa, we’ve compiled a team comprising of the smartest minds currently playing the game…

11. Simon Mignolet

Considering Mignolet’s goalkeeping abilities are brought into disrepute so regularly, it’s no wondering that he seeks solace and escapism in a good book. 

The 29-year-old Liverpool shot-stopper’s bookcase most probably boasts some conversation-starting material as well. Back when he was playing for Sunderland the Belgium international finished a degree in political science. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s also fluent in Flemish, Dutch, German, French and English.

Come to think of it, Mignolet absolutely screams generic university lad. Hollister shirt, straight leg jeans, watered-down mojito every other Thursday night, that kind of thing. 

10. Glen Johnson

The out of favour Stoke defender has had a rich and varied career, playing for the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, West Ham and the England national team.

But when he’s not marauding down the right-hand side of the pitch, the 33-year-old enjoys nothing more than sinking his teeth into a mind-boggling equation while he studies for a maths degree at the Open University. 

“I love the planning and problem solving, equations, working out, for example, how much fuel a plane needs,” he told the Telegraph in 2012. That’ll no doubt come in handy on transfer deadline day what with all the chartering of private jets and all that.

9. Giorgio Chiellini

2017 was a great year for Juventus centre-back Chiellini. Not only did he help his team to clinch the Serie A title – their sixth season in a row, marking an Italian record, he was also instrumental in getting the Old Lady to the Champions League final.

And it’s not just in the Juventus backline that the Italian flourished. Alongside his duty on the pitch, Chiellini managed to find the time to graduate from the University of Turin with a master’s degree in business administration. The title of his dissertation? ‘The Business Model of Juventus Football Club in an International Context’.

8. Vincent Kompany

Funnily enough, Chiellini wasn’t the only world class centre-back in his thirties to earn himself a master’s degree in business administration in 2017. 

Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany also completed a degree in the exact same subject, but graduated from the Alliance Manchester Business School.

“I’m an entrepreneur at the core so have a natural interest in business. The MBA was about backing this up with academic learning and research,” he told the university website .

7. Yuto Nagatomo

The Inter defender – who’s currently on loan at Turkish side Galatasaray – graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Doshisha University.

And not just satisfied with a degree, or, you know, playing football professionally for some of Europe’s greatest sides, the Japanese international has also published two books.

You’ll have to judge the quality of the books yourselves – the title of one translates to The Important Thing to Feel the Rise Thought Happiness, according to Amazon – but that’s a pretty impressive CV by anyone’s standards.

6. Nedum Onuoha

While the former Manchester City man, who’s now plying his trade for Queens Park Rangers in the Championship, doesn’t have a degree or book to his name, he was a precocious talent in his youth – on and off the football pitch.

The defender got straight As in his GCSE exams, and also passed three of his A-levels at Manchester’s Xaverian College.

5. Juan Mata

The Spanish World Cup winner is not your average footballer.

Not only did he help launch the Common Goal initiative, in which players and managers pledge one per cent of their salary to charity, but he’s a bit of a swot, too.

The 29-year-old Manchester United midfielder has not one, but two degrees from Madrid’s Universidad Camilo Jose Cela to his name. One is in sports science and the other in marketing. 

Another impressive fact? After moving to London to join Chelsea from Valencia back in 2011, he was fluent in English in less than a year.

4. Andrey Arshavin

Yep, Arshavin is still kicking about. The ex-Arsenal man is now playing for Kairat Almaty in Kazakhstan’s Premier Liga, albeit he’s not performing for them on a regular basis.

Arshavin’s Arsenal career can probably be distilled into that magical goal against Barcelona in the Champions League, with many fans chastising him for lethargic displays towards the tailend of his time in North London. 

What some followers of the game may have missed was that Arshavin had interests outside of the football pitch, and maybe he was putting his time and energy into following the passion of designing clothes.   

That’s correct, Arshavin has a degree in fashion design and wrote a thesis entitled ‘Development of Sportswear Manufacturing’. This sounds less HYPEBEAST and more Sports Direct on acid, though, as the project entailed Arshavin designing a suit that can be worn both casually and for sport. 

That all being said, with Arshavin’s couture-oriented expertise, you’d have thought Wenger would have asked him to take a look at that bloody zip. 

3. Henrikh Mkhitaryan

When Arsenal agreed the deal to effectively swap Alexis Sanchez for Henrikh Mkhitaryan with Manchester United, they would have known that they were getting a midfielder with blistering pace, silky craft and raw graft, but what they wouldn’t have expected was a player with some impressive academic credentials.

Not only can the 29-year-old Armenian speak French, Russian, English and Portuguese, he’s also a bit of a business boffin. He has a diploma from the Institute of Physical Culture in Armenia and was taking a degree in economics at the St Petersburg Institute Yerevan branch before leaving Shakhtar Dontesk for Borussia Dortmund. 

“When I graduate, I want to become a lawyer,” he once told

2. Romelu Lukaku

Paul Merson once proclaimed that Romelu Lukaku was ‘not bright enough’ to play with Hazard or Fabregas but then again, I don’t think the Sky Sports pundit was blessed with a high level of intellect. Let’s not forget he once stated that Hull needed a good British manager like, er, Frenchman Thierry Henry.

While Merse was quite clearly referring to footballing intuition rather than academic intelligence, he obviously hadn’t done his own homework on Manchester United’s forward.

In fact, the Belgian international is a pretty smart guy, and is apparently fluent in languages including English, French, Spanish, Dutch and Congolese. That’s four and a half more than Merson can manage.

1. Duncan Watmore

Sunderland striker and bonafide good egg Duncan Watmore appears to be cut from the same cloth as Academico FC teammate Juan Mata. In fact, he’s even part of the Spaniard’s Common Goal charity, and was the first Championship player to get on board with the project.

And it’s not only altruistic traits that he shares with Mata, as he’s a smart cookie as well. Back in 2015, Watmore graduated from Newcastle University with a first-class honours degree in economics. 

“There are a lot worse jobs to combine a degree with than football, so I can’t really complain,” he said of his time studying.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.