I was a useless leader, and Fergie will be a useless mayor

What does a captain do? If he's a striker or forward player, norralot. A striker is selfish, temperamentally more concerned about his own game than anyone else's. He has one basic function, which is finishing - quite an important function . . . OK, the important function, which is why strikers are so expensive and so well paid. He plays up field and can be out of the game for long stretches, cut off from the rest of his team. Hence it always strikes me as potty when they make a striker the captain.

I think Alan Shearer has been a pretty useless England captain. So was Kevin Keegan, ditto Gary Lineker. In their case, the job was ceremonial, a reward for being the star or senior player, admired by all - like the way a headmaster makes the most boring, most sensible sixth-former the head boy.

Ideally, a football captain should be a defender or midfield player - either involved in all the action or watching all the action happening in front of him. And he needs the right personality and the right sort of football brain, both of which, though not always, come with experience.

Tony Adams is clearly the best bet for England captain when Shearer hands in his armband in the summer. He is a leader on the pitch, a screamer and shouter, director and motivator, excellent at urging them on. If, that is, he's fit. That's the only doubt hanging over Adams.

Sol Campbell is not ready for it yet. He has matured over the past couple of years and become more of a leader, but he is still too quiet, too reserved, not nearly dominant enough. On the other hand, I can't quite remember Bobby Moore giving people bollockings. He led by example rather than by his personality. Gareth Southgate leads well, and has a good football brain, but he's not sure of his England place - which is a bit of a handicap.

Dave Mackay was the best captain I ever saw. The modern version is Roy Keane, the best of today's captains. He is the heart of the Man Utd team, without whom they never tick as well. You don't have to be the best player to be captain, but it does help.

When Alan Mullery was captain of Spurs, he was not all that popular with the rest of the team, nor particularly admired as a player, but everyone agreed he made an excellent captain. Martin Peters, when he took over, was greatly liked, hugely admired as a player, but as captain he was rubbish. Completely the wrong personality.

Oh, isn't it fun making these huge generalisations, but then that's the point of being a football fan. No qualifications needed. Just open your mouth and away you go.

Could you be captain? Could I do it? I never thought I was cut out to be a leader of men, though I was a patrol leader in the Boy Scouts. Hawk Patrol, 17th Carlisle Church of Scotland Troop. Now you remember. I was never a prefect at school, partly because I changed schools so often, but when I got to Durham I was, to my surprise, voted senior man of my college, which was what we called the president of our JCR. I rather liked that. You got a better set of rooms and a sherry allowance.

My next incarnation as a leader of men was as a leader of women. I was, for a time, editor of the women's pages on the Sunday Times - the best fun I ever had in journalism, and the longest lunches. Just a small team, hand-picked, no factions, no arguments, we all got on well. I liked it, they liked me. Later, I was made editor of the colour magazine - a much bigger job, with more people, more departments, terrible problems, awful arguments. I was useless. They didn't like me. And I disliked being unpopular, which is a terrible weakness. So that was my life as a leader. One thing I didn't like was having to listen to people's boring moans and groans about their expenses, their status, the size of their bylines, the size of their desks, and having to keep a serious face when I didn't give a toss.

Leading on the pitch isn't quite the same as in real life, but a club captain or national captain does have certain off-the-field functions to perform. He becomes a quasi union rep, going to see the management on behalf of the players, involved in decisions about the team's perks, which can be pretty tedious.

Do good captains make good managers? Bobby Moore didn't, but Kevin Keegan did, well he's still employed as one. George Graham was never a captain, and as a player was far from a model professional, on or off the pitch. I never saw Alex Ferguson play, but from his autobiography he appears to have been a bit of a loner, and was virtually elbowed out of Rangers. George and Alex, with age and experience, have turned themselves into leaders of men.

Three weeks ago, in the boardroom at Wimbledon, I observed Alastair Campbell whispering intently into Fergie's ear. I didn't know what it was about at the time. And Al wouldn't tell me, the rotter. We now learn that Fergie has been sounded out as the person Tony Blair would like to stand for election as mayor of Manchester. Doubtless, he would be swept in on a wave of popularity. Except by City fans.

One of the dangers of having proven man management skills in one particular area is to assume that it can be transferred. Fergie would be a useless mayor and would be bored rigid by the job. So don't do it, Fergie. And don't do it, Manchester. Stick to football.

For the next three weeks I'll be sticking to my family. Off to Botswana to see my brand new granddaughter, Ruby. Will we have any team in Europe when I return? Will I find someone in the Okavango Delta with satellite TV?

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 20 March 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: yet again, they are lying to us