New Times,
New Thinking.

Advertorial feature by
  1. Election 2024
30 September 2017updated 01 Nov 2022 5:40am

It’s easier to predict which footballer will end up retired and fat than which will become a manager

Too much success as a player can often be a handicap, stunting the hunger and ambition. 

By Hunter Davies

I watch all the games – Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Gameday, Euroday, Womensday. God, life is good; we hardly have a football-less day at the moment. In dull moments, which do exist, while I am wondering whether to open another bottle or go to the lav, or both, I have this recurring thought – whatever will happen to all the players?

I look at those fine, toned bodies and ponder which of them will end up fat and slobbish, like Maradona and Ronaldo – the Brazilian one, not the Portugese one, for his body is still so toned you have to look away, or give up drink.

In England, in recent years, we all saw Steve Bruce, when he retired, put on so much weight, and Big Sam, and poor old Joe Kinnear who went totally to seed. I knew Joe as a young player at Spurs, so lithe, so dapper, so lean and fit.

All three of them became managers, with varying degrees of success – and that was probably the biggest surprise. You can predict weight gain by the player’s frame, and expect a proportion to end up with appalling arthritis – the curse of all sports people – and some to end up with dementia, like several of the 1966 World Cup squad. But that is the curse of humanity in general. But predicting who will become a manager? Impossible.

Mark Hughes at Stoke was never expected in his Man United playing days to go into management. Too shy, too tongue tied, too remote, did not appear to have any opinions or ambitions.

In theory you would expect most captains to be management material, as they are supposed to lead, motivate. But not all do, often because they are simply senior players. You want them, ideally, also to be nasty, brutal, strong and verging on deranged.

Fergie expected his Man United captain Roy Keane to make it as a manager but then he changed his mind and decided Keane had “too many demons”. I’m not sure what that means, probably the lawyers got at the original words, but Keane is clearly self-obsessed, with little insight into how others think and feel or will respond.

You have to be cool and cunning to be a manager, not just have a big head, and also be a bit of a bastard, as Fergie was. As Brian Clough was. As Mourinho is.

If there is one element common to many managers it’s failure – in the sense that their playing career was brought to an early end for some reason, or never progressed. Mourinho hardly had one: just a few games in the Portuguese second league. He made it on the strength of being an all-round clever clogs, a self-made man totally in love with his maker. Wenger’s was hardly any greater – a minor player in lowly French teams.

Fergie spent his whole playing career in Scotland and had a chip on his shoulder about his short spell at Rangers, being unfairly blamed, so he thought, for a mistake in the 1969 Scottish Cup final, which Celtic won. Brian Clough’s time as a player was ruined by a knee injury, forcing him to retire in his late twenties having achieved just two England caps.

Too much success as a player can often be a handicap, stunting the hunger and ambition. Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton struggled when they found themselves managing a load of stiffs in the lower leagues.

The new element these days is money. When players come to the end of their playing careers and wonder what to do next, they must think, why bother? Until the 1990s, players always had to find some paid work when they retired. Nowadays, every lumpen journeyman who has managed a few seasons in the Prem should have £5m stashed away.

So which present player might make a good manager? Top-team stars are too spoilt. Last week, watching Stoke, it stuck me that Darren Fletcher, clearly an intelligent player, who has overcome chronic bowel disease, looked as if he really cared. It probably hurts him that he was let go by Man United on a free transfer. In his head he thinks: “One day, I’ll show them.” 

Topics in this article :