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Wonderful article today in the Brit tabloids based around a Swedish study on soccer intelligence...

You must be clever to be a footballer... the truly thick, the unteachable, soon get weeded out


Mario Balotelli allowed pals to let off fireworks in his bathroom. Ashley Cole cheated on gorgeous Cheryl.

And David Beckham once said: “My parents have been there for me, ever since I was about seven.”

Though brilliant on the ball, footballers aren’t known for their brainpower.

But academics in Sweden found they scored higher on tests that measured other kinds of intelligence, besides IQ. They have high levels of creativity, cognitive flexibility (adapting to a changing situation), processing speed (thinking time) and working memory.

Here, a legendary football writer explains why soccer heroes are clever after all and we put together a team of clever professionals.

MY rule of thumb with footballers is that they are not thick, they just appear to be thick.

Just as Boris Johnson appears to be clever and well educated and is actually very, very thick.

How could Boris do the things he has done without looking ahead to the consequences?

By the same token, how could Balotelli do the things he has done and not seen what might happen?

This business of people being considered thick or not is totally subjective. We all have our own measurements, prejudices, values and half-baked opinions.

A Swedish study claims to prove footballers are nothing like the all-round thickos that most people have always believed.

Researchers in Stockholm tested some footballers at the top of the Swedish leagues and found their cognitive flexibility, design fluency, processing speed and working memory — whatever all that means — put them in the top five per cent of those studied when it came to cognitive flexibility, etc.

Personally, I have always rated the basic intelligence, common sense, streetwiseness and quick-wittedness of footballers very highly.

Obviously they are not educated in the normal sense and are rubbish at Latin and advanced physics.

But then from the age of eight they have known they are going to be footballers — so why bother with all that academic stuff?

The football system deliberately works against their educational and cultural development.

It keeps them in a hot house, cut off from too much stimulus and influence, wanting them to concentrate on only one aspect of their being, which is being a footballer.

They don’t want clever human beings. They just want clever footballers.

But these days, to succeed as a footballer, you have to be mentally tough, to take in complicated instructions, be highly disciplined, have quick reactions, be emotionally resilient.

The truly thick, the unteachable, the unimprovable, soon get weeded out. Obviously Balotelli having a fireworks party inside his house was pretty dopey.

Or being seen at nightclubs in the early hours or shagging a girl who is not his girlfriend who will then tell everyone, was not exactly sensible as it was bound to get out.

But hey, politicians do that sort of thing all the time, in Italy and France as well as Britain and the USA, thinking for some illogical reason they won’t get found out.

But that is not really an example of being thick — just arrogant.

Most people probably assume Gazza must be pretty thick, as he has done some amazingly thicko things — like firing an airgun at the bare bum of his best pal Five Bellies, or making s*** sandwiches, putting them in the fridge, then handing them round to his chums.

That’s the sort of really stupid thing you would expect Oxford students at the Bullingdon Club to do, not caring sensitive, intelligent footballers — like Gazza.

Which he is, oh yes.

When I ghostwrote his memoirs, I was worried he would never read the stuff I had written, half believing that footballers never read anything, but he did.

He spent eight hours, sucking his pencil, went through every page, every line and not just corrected my spelling but my grammar.

Gazza can play chess, and used to play with his former lawyer, which might surprise some people. He is also an expert at complicated card games, playing against himself on his mobile — stuff I could not understand, far less manage to operate.

Wayne Rooney is clearly not stupid, but is still somewhat naïve, so can give the impression of not knowing very much. But he is quick-witted and smart.

Like most super stars of the modern age, his life is run by other people, so he doesn’t have to bother with boring things like doing his accounts, ringing the plumber, which does tend to make them appear rather feckless and backward. But it just means they are pampered.

I once interviewed Harold MacMillan, just after he had ceased to be Prime Minister, and he was totally lost, unable even to make a telephone call.

It had all been done for him for so many years.

Yet the inability to perform such basic functions might well be dismissed as pretty stupid.

The two most naturally intelligent footballers I have personally ever met have been Dwight Yorke and Garth Crooks.

They are both naturally fluent and smart — yet they don’t strike the general public as being intelligent because each, for some reason, holds back, not wanting to give offence or show off.

So most of their public utterances appear bland and insipid or boring.

Which of course some people, wrongly, dismiss as a sign of not much intelligence.

I assume, without knowing him, that Balotelli is in fact intelligent.

I base this on my rule of thumb which says that any foreign footballer over here who has survived and thrived and is still here must be intelligent.

By intelligent, I mean he has managed the language, the cultural shock, the different food, rules, regulations, weather, systems, traffic, TV, driving and our funny sense of humour.

To overcome all that — and want to overcome all that — you have to have a lively mind, a quick wit, an imagination, be sharp, flexible, creative, adaptable.

All of which most of us would describe as sure signs of intelligence.

World's brainiest team

Albert Camus

“What I know about morality and obligations, I owe to football” – French philosopher and author Albert Camus, who was a goalkeeper at university

Roy Keane

“I don’t think some of the people who come to Old Trafford can spell football, never mind understand it” – Roy Keane reckons he is cleverer than the fans who came to watch him play – and he was probably right

Joey Barton

“Violence always comes from a place of misunderstanding and low to zero self-worth, well mine did anyway” – QPR’s Joey Barton, an admirer of philosphers Seneca and Nietzsche, gives his view on last summer’s riots

Clarke Carlisle

“If GPs were in control of buying their own stocks, then they would have known how many flu vaccinations they would have needed and ordered accordingly” – Northampton’s Clarke Carlisle, who appeared on Question Time, has strong views on NHS reforms

Juan Mata

“It was an opportunity to know another city, another country, another culture and language. I’m trying to know every part of London, to improve my English and enjoy the football” – Chelsea’s Juan Mata, who is studying for two degrees

Johan Cryuff

“I’m not religious. In Spain all 22 players make the sign of the cross before they enter the pitch. If it works all matches must therefore end in a draw” – Dutch legend Johan Cruyff takes a mathematical look at spirituality

Frank Lampard

“Nobody expects a footballer to have any kind of an IQ, which is a bit of an unfair stereotype. I was always pretty good at school. I got an A star, three As, five Bs and a C in my GCSEs” – Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, who has an IQ of 150 and a GCSE in Latin


“My legitimate kids are Dalma and Giannina. The rest are a product of my money and mistakes” – Maradona airs his views on fatherhood


“Sadly, in the globalised world, people don’t think about individuals as much as they think about money, the economy. We need to prioritise the human being” – Brazil legend Socrates, who not only shared his name with the Greek philosopher but was also a qualified doctor

Eric Cantona

“Often there are players who have only football as a way of expressing themselves. And when they no longer play football, they no longer do anything; they no longer exist, or rather they have the sensation of no longer existing.”


“When football stars disappear, so do the teams, and that is a very curious phenomenon. It is like in the theatre, in a play, where there is a great star. If the star is not well, the whole cast suffers.”

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I'd like to Point out that Camus was a goalkeeper.

Not just an inteligent footballer, but a goalie to boot.

Propably the brightest goalie, even perhaps the brightest player of the lot, had to be Edinho, the son of Edson Arantes do Nascimento; Or as we know him best Pele.

A decent outfield player in his own right. Edinho understood that however well he did as an outfieldplayer, he would not match up to his father's greatness and decided to play in goal. Jordi Cruyff did not quite understand this logic so after what, to most, would be an outstanding career, was still tained with the comments of, "Yeah, but he was never as good as his dad".

Sadly, Edinho's life after football has not been too rosey.


Perhaps it refects similar to the Macmillan comment in the piece. That bit about not been able to cope with life outside of the bubble, or rather that in all actuality, he is a bit of "a thickie" afterall.

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