Top footballers who ventured into politics after hanging boots
They might look the same in colour but salt and sugar are not a good mix, so many will say Politics and football certainly won’t be a good mix either with regard to career paths.
But these footballers around the world proved the narrative wrong when they made their way into politics.
Some of these players went on to become senators and leaders of their nations while some are still trying despite a few failed attempts.
Here is a list of 10 footballers who later went on to ply their trade in the field of politics after entertaining us with their football skills.
- Sol Campbell
Sol Campbell is one of the greatest center-backs for the England national team over a span of 11 years, making 73 appearances. He is also considered a legend by the clubs he has played for, namely Arsenal, Portsmouth, Tottenham Hotspur, and Newcastle.
Following his retirement from football, Campbell joined the Conservative Party in England in 2014 and revealed in 2014 that he was considering running for office, partially in a bid to help secure the ‘black vote’ for the Tories.
He put himself forward in the race for the Conservative nomination for Mayor of London for the election in 2016 to replace Boris Johnson but failed to make the shortlist.
- Albert Gudmundsson
Gudmundsson was the first of his Icelandic countrymen to become a professional player, spending his career with Rangers, Arsenal, Nancy, AC Milan, RC Paris, and Nice, as well as Valur and FH back home.
The former forward entered the political arena in 1970, joining the Independence Party and becoming the councilman for Reykjavik. He was then elected as an MP four years later, before his appointment as Minister of Finance in 1983 and Minister of Industry in 1985.
- Roman Pavlyuchenko
Not many people could juggle the demands of being a Premier League striker and a politician, but Pavlyuchenko gave it a try. In 2007, a year before he joined Tottenham, the Russian marksman secured a seat in his hometown of Stavropol for Putin’s party.
A Russian football commentator claimed the only reason Pavlyuchenko took to politics was that “the international financial crises affected his wages”. He managed more votes than goals, though.
- Grzegorz Lato
Grzegorz Lato is the only Polish footballer to have won a Golden Boot at the FIFA World Cup. He achieved the feat in 1974 when he bagged seven goals to his name. In a 14-year-long career for the national team, he appeared 100 times and scored 45 goals.
In 2001, the celebrated footballer in retirement entered politics to become a senator for the Democratic Left Alliance Party, before taking on the role of president for the Polish FA.
During his time as the country’s FA boss, he did the unthinkable when he sacked Dutch coach Leo Beenhaker live on television after Poland’s failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup following a 3-0 defeat by Slovenia.
Regarded by many as the greatest footballer ever after winning three World Cups, he remains the youngest footballer (17) to have scored in a World Cup. Pele enjoyed a diverse career since retiring from the game in 1977.
The legend served as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and a UN ambassador for ecology and the environment.
He also spent time as Brazil’s Extraordinary Minister for Sport and even had a piece of legislation named after him – the “Pele law” – as he sought to reduce corruption in Brazilian football, but he left his position in 2001 after being accused of involvement in a corruption scandal himself.
- Hakan Sukur
The brilliant player nicknamed Bull of the Bosphorus is Turkey’s all-time record goalscorer with 51 goals in 112 appearances, while he’s also considered a legend at Galatasaray, for which he found the net 295 times across three spells.
Aside from the Turkish giants, he also plied his trade for notable clubs like Torino, Inter Milan, Parma, and Blackburn Rovers.
The former striker turned his hand to politics after retiring, winning a seat in the Turkish parliament in 2011 as a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party.
He resigned from the party two and a half years later but remained an MP as an independent.
Sukur then hit the headlines again in 2016, when a warrant was issued for his arrest after he was charged with “being a member of an armed terror group” a few months on from a separate charge of insulting president Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Twitter. He currently lives in exile in the US.
- Titi Camara
Former Lens, Liverpool, and West Ham striker Camara spent most of his playing days in England and France, before returning to his native Guinea after retiring from football in the mid-2000s.
After brief spells as both national technical director and head coach of the national team in 2009, Camara was installed as Guinea’s Sports Minister following the election of President Alpha Conde. He lasted until 2012.
Romario donned the Brazilian colours 70 times and netted 56 goals and was a member of the 1994 FIFA World Cup winning squad. He won Copa America twice in 1989 and 1997. His club career witnessed reputed and notable clubs like PSV Eindhoven, FC Barcelona, Fluminense, and Flamengo.
One of the greatest strikers of all time and a bona fide Brazilian legend, Romario has gone further than most when it comes to swapping a career in football for one in politics.
Standing under the Brazilian Socialist Party banner, the ex-PSV, Barcelona, and Flamengo frontman was elected to the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Congress, in 2010, and used his position to lobby against Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup.
Shortly after that tournament, Romario was elected to the Brazilian senate, receiving more votes than any other candidate who has ever stood for representation in Rio de Janeiro. He is still in office today but has represented the Liberal Party since 2021.
Zico is one of Brazil’s greatest-ever footballers who was part of the legendary Selecao side which graced the 1982 World Cup.
His exuberance on the pitch amazed millions. In a span of 10 years, ranging from 1976 to 1986, Zico made 71 appearances for the Selecao and scored 48 goals.
Later, in 1990, the legend went on to become the Sports Minister of Brazil.
The former Flamengo man advanced a number of reforms to improve Brazilian football but was left frustrated when a parliamentary vote was continually delayed and duly vacated the post after just 13 months in office.
After various managerial spells including positions with Japan, Iraq, and Fenerbahce, Zico announced his intention to run for the FIFA presidency in 2015. He failed to secure the backing of five national football associations and was therefore forced to withdraw from the running.
- George Weah
George Weah is held as one of the greatest footballers of all time. The three-time African footballer of the year is the only player from the continent to receive the Ballon d’Or.
The former Chelsea, AC Milan, and AS Monaco striker had 184 goals at the club level and 22 goals at the national level for Liberia.
In 2005, shortly after the end of the Second Liberian Civil War, 1995 Ballon D’or winner Weah announced his intentions to run for the presidency in Liberia. But popular as he was in his native homeland, the opposition cited him as an inexperienced politician with no education and labeled him a “babe in the woods”.
His eligibility to run for the presidency was also called into question as it was reported that he had become a French citizen in his footballing career at Paris St. Germain, but these complaints were rebuffed by the electoral commission in court and Weah was allowed to proceed but eventually lost to the Harvard-educated Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
In 2014, Weah beat Sirleaf’s son Robert and was elected to the Liberian Senate from Montserrado County, with an overwhelming majority.
Representing the Coalition for Democratic Change, Weah had another go at the presidency in 2017 and this time he was successful.
The one-time Chelsea loanee won 61.54% of the vote to defeat Joseph Boakai in a run-off.