Who wants to be . . .

As two new boys enter the Premier League, Hunter Davies asks what makes a manager

Now that Birmingham City and Sunderland are up, it means that next season we'll have four managers in the Premiership who once played for Man United - Steve Bruce and Roy Keane joining Steve Coppell of Reading and Mark Hughes of Blackburn. Interesting, huh. But what does it signify?

So I looked at the present Man U stars and immediately thought Gary Neville. Not quite officer class, despite his new and rather lovely rural mansion, but he's definitely one of nature's NCOs, so you'd have to tip him to be a manager. Paul Scholes? I suspect he's one of those footballers who doesn't actually much care for football, as a subject, as an obsession. Once finished, he'll turn his back on the game.

Sparky Hughes sat silent in the dressing room and was never considered manager material, but to everyone's surprise, including Fergie's, he's turned out excellent, doing it his way, without shouting and screaming. Steve Coppell was obviously an intelligent player, but he seemed self-effacing, hesitant, bit of a mumbler. Which he still is.

None of the managers of this season's top four played for Man United, nor even played in England. Fergie had a reasonably decent career in Scotland, but with smallish clubs, apart from a brief period with Rangers. Being Scottish, I've always kept an eye on Scottish football, but when Fergie suddenly appeared as a brilliant manager at Aberdeen, I had no memory of him as a player. The other three - José Mourinho, Rafael Benítez and Arsène Wenger - were completely unknown over here as players, mainly because they had rubbish careers. Which proves whatever it proves.

Looking at the rest of the Premiership managers, Stuart Pearce had an excellent England career, but it remains to be seen if he'll do as well as a manager. Ditto Gareth Southgate. Martin O'Neill, while never a star player, had a star career, because of what he won with Nottingham Forest. The rest of the Prem managers were more or less journeymen.

One of the new elements these days is that the averagely successful Prem player will retire as a millionaire, so many won't be arsed to rough it for years in the lower leagues, as Cloughie did at Hartlepool or Bill Shankly at Carlisle. There is also the attraction of a soft yet very well-paid billet in the media. You always feel Andy Gray and Alan Hansen could have made good managers, but perhaps that's because they talk a good game. Alan Shearer is an interesting case - he is hopeless as a pundit, as big a yawn today as he was in post-match interviews as a player. Presumably he's waiting for the right managerial position.

Goalkeepers, they rarely reappear as managers, Dino Zoff being the major exception. Neither do flash-git, fancy-dan players. Chris Waddle did try, but didn't make it. Gazza fancied it, in his dreams. George Best never contemplated it. So we'd have to bet against Cristiano Ronaldo being a Prem manager in 20 years' time, but Wayne Rooney might. Off the pitch, he's solid and sensible, doesn't waste words - a bit like Bill Nicholson.

Back in 1972, when I was doing The Glory Game, a book about a year in the life of Spurs, I asked the players about their plans. Eight went on to be managers - Alan Mullery, Mike England, Steve Perryman, Joe Kinnear, Graeme Souness, Martin Peters, Cyril Knowles and Phil Holder - yet, at the time, only one of them (Peters) expressed any interest. The others said no way, it was the last thing they fancied. So, the message is, you never can tell . . .

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 14 May 2007 issue of the New Statesman, What now?