During the 2002 FIFA World Cup, England and Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes was asked to name his favourite player of all time. He addressed the assembled international media by responding with the name of Frankie Bunn.
“He scored six goals in a League Cup tie against Scarborough once,” explained Scholes to the silent and largely confused foreign audience. Of course, Bunn was the former Oldham Athletic striker who played for the club in the late 1980s, and was a player who had a bigger influence on the young Scholes than anyone else.
It was an answer that defines the dry humour and unassuming modesty of Scholes. One of the most technically talented players of his generation, he was never one to seek attention, and specifically avoided the media circus that followed his club and country around during the course of his successful playing career.
Now, in a twist of footballing fate, Scholes sits on the verge of replacing Bunn as the manager of League Two side Oldham Athletic. Scholes has always been a fan of the club, and it will be a big step for him to make the switch into coaching and management having initially struggled to ease himself into television punditry.
Bunn took charge of Oldham Athletic last summer but lasted only six months in the job. The club had been relegated the season before, but Bunn struggled to revive the fortunes of a club that were founder members of the Premier League in 1992. They now find themselves in mid-table of the fourth tier of the English game.
Scholes would be a high-profile and welcome appointment that would lift the supporters and the changing room in equal measure. With the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard currently cutting their teeth in management at Glasgow Rangers and Derby County respectively, they have tapped into their network of contacts to boost their squads, and Scholes will find himself in a similarly privileged position.
However, the quality of football in League Two is not something that Scholes will have experienced before, and it remains to be seen if he will have the patience and motivation to get the best out of a squad of players that clearly lack the natural ability that enabled him to compete at the very top of the world game. It will be a sharp learning curve for all involved.
There is no doubt that some senior professional players appear more suited to management than others. Gerrard and Lampard portray a natural enthusiasm that suggests they have the drive to succeed in this latest chapter of their illustrious and decorated careers. However, Scholes cuts a very different figure, and he seemed more likely to walk away from football completely than step into management, such is his criticism of the modern game.
But there is more to Scholes than meets the eye. His frustration over the demise of Manchester United following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson confirms that he retains a passion for the club where he spent his entire professional playing career, while his investment and interest in Salford City offers him an opportunity to stay in touch with the real side of the beautiful game.
It is clear that Scholes has little time for many aspects of the modern game at the very highest level, and it is that desire to return to the basic values that could make his time as manager Oldham Athletic surprisingly successful. It will be a character building experience for him, but his passion for the club that introduced him to the game as an impressionable youngster will give him an edge in what will inevitably be a difficult job.
It was Oldham Athletic that provided the platform for Frankie Bunn to score six goals against Scarborough in 1989, and it was Paul Scholes who introduced Bunn to the world in 2002. Now it is Scholes who will look to Oldham to provide the springboard to his own coaching career as he prepares to replace his hero, and his time in League Two will be well worth watching.