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How crucial is the captain's role?

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Jack Ross | 10:51 UK time, Monday, 15 February 2010

Armbands are confusing. After all, when you are young they help to keep you afloat and yet fast forward a few years, and an armband, with its expectation and pressure, can weigh a footballer down. If you are given such a role and responsibility then you must sink or swim!

Alongside some of the burdens that a captaincy can press upon a player, there is of course much prestige, honour and hopefully enjoyment and success from being given such a role within a club.

If we associate being a skipper with all of these potential pitfalls and advantages, then it must be an important decision for a manager to make and with this in mind how does he come to identifying the right player for the job?

In some cases, or for some coaches it may be as simple as picking the most experienced or most talented player but for others the process will be given more thought.

fletcher595.jpgIn my view, the influence of a captain on the field can be exaggerated, as while inspiration will always be sought at difficult times, the onus should always be upon an individual player to provide his own motivation and commitment.

I am not dismissing any attributes a captain provides on the pitch as I believe consistency and reliability of performance are key factors in why a manger selects a certain player to fulfil that role.

It may also be the case that from the outside looking in, supporters expect their skipper to be the one who shouts the most during the game, and while communication is vital, the quality and significance of these messages are more important than the volume.

With regards to this ability to communicate on the pitch, it is interesting that most, if not all teams in the SPL have a captain who plays in a central position on the pitch, either at centre half or centre midfield.

This would suggest that managers believe that this is the best way for their messages to be relayed and the best way for his choice of player to be clearly visible to all on the pitch.

There are always exceptions to the rule, and indeed when I have captained St Mirren in the absence of John Potter I have done so from full back, with Darren Barr at times with Falkirk and Garry Hay at Kilmarnock doing the same.

I have never found it a hindrance to do the job from that area of the park, and yet it does seem that clubs seem to favour a centrally positioned captain.

There is some discussion over who Craig Levein will appoint as his leader for the first match of his tenure as Scotland manager.

Looking at the players he may be considering I think it is fair to say that we are in a healthy position with respect to the number of players who could comfortably and successfully occupy the role.

Darren Fletcher has been the man in possession of the armband and it would be no surprise if he was to continue with the responsibility as his talent, experience, temperament and desire make him an ideal player to fit a manager's captain criteria.

If others are considered, then Gary Caldwell, Stephen McManus and dare I say Barry Ferguson are players who have proven their capabilities as leaders on the pitch.

It should be pointed out that all the candidates I have suggested are central defenders or central midfielders - surely not a coincidence...


  • Comment number 1.

    Jack, very interesting to hear a view on captaincy from someone inside football, but the one aspect of the role that you haven't covered is the ambassadorial, off-field role that captains have (especially at the traditional "Big Clubs" and for International sides).

    The recent stripping of the armband from John Terry would seem to prove that great experience, inspirational form and/or communication skills are not necessarily enough to be a complete captain.

    The oft-spouted cliche of having eleven captains on the field would seem to be easier to achieve than finding just one man who can truly fulfil the role of captain off it.

  • Comment number 2.

    2. Oh, I'm being moderated even though I've been registered for ages. Is this the BBC or

  • Comment number 3.

    You have to look in a mirror and say, hey, this is me, i am being a captain. I think you will get this from your man on the field. His name should be Fletchr. It must be a man who is an automatic pick I don't think i am knowing if Mcamnus or Calswell will know if they are a starter. You have Berra who might play, Dorrnas could get a game then you could even say others. It's tough I know.

    Must be starter. It should be a defender too, or a midfield situator. Look at your best ever captains in Scotland. You have Sounees, McStay, McGrain. etc. They have to be vocally and be a man who others trust. With John Teryr the lads have lost a trust there. This is tough. Like Fletcher you have a player who is a pick to start. He has lots of big game played. He is a vocaliser. Not a bad player too. I'm sure a youbng lad willlsiten to a guy who has won everythings.

  • Comment number 4.

    I think the role of captain once commanded a certain amount of respect, like many things in modern society this is no longer the case. I don't feel qualified to judge if this 'trend' is a good or bad thing, it is merely my observation. Some see captaincy as an honour, others may feel weighed down by the 'burden.' So "how crucial is the captain's role?" probably depends on the individual. Good blog though.

  • Comment number 5.

    Unless Roy Race is Scottish, I'm afraid it's going to matter relatively little who their captain is, given their current lack of available talent.

    For which I have some sympathies.

  • Comment number 6.

    Does a captain have to be a popular member of the team?

  • Comment number 7.

    The influence of a captain depends on many things such as the quality of the player and the team. If you have a team like Chelsea, it is full of world class experienced players who can all stand up and be counted. JT as captain isn't essential to them. When you look at Liverpool, especially when their backs are against the wall, that is when Gerrard is at his best so it gives the whole team a lift. I think that the captaincy is as big as the man who sports the armband and the confidence and determination he can inspire into his teammates.

  • Comment number 8.

    'nough respect Jack. but Gary 'whoops' Caldwell or Barry 'v is for victory' Ferguson? you're having a Rory mcgrath :)

    Fletcher or perhaps Mcmanus yes

  • Comment number 9.

    I think the people who say that a captain is no longer needed or useful support teams that don't have an exceptional captain. A great captain, a leader, makes the difference when it matters - he can help inspire every other player and every fan into believing they can win. Most teams wont have a player capable of doing this to such extreme levels, and instead simply have eleven professionals who give their most week in week out - and hence the armband seems insignificant to the people watching these teams. Yet some teams will have a captain who can make the difference, and will always make the right decision (Steven Gerrard the prime example) at the right time. These players are extremely important to every major success, and they can often be the difference between success and failure.

    I think a great captain is rather underrated in modern football and the job isn't taken seriously because there are very few around.

    As for Scotland, I don't believe Barry Ferguson or Gary Caldwell should be in with a shout. Darren Fletcher has always seemed a bit ligthweight for the armband in my opinion, and doesn't have the ability to inspire those around him to up their game. Stephen McManus would probably be my first choice because on the field he is as close to a leader as we have - and is usually solid for Scotland (despite a few slip ups in the last year).

    I've always found John Potter a peculiar choice as captain for St. Mirren. While definitely improving this year he's always seemed to me to inspire fear more than confidence throughout the team because of his lack of technical and physical ability that often gets capatilised upon as part of a back four (when we have three centre backs this does not happen much). I know you can't really slate Potter on here, but is he really an ideal captain? Does he have greater influence upon the team that we in the stand see?

  • Comment number 10.

    I think that the captains role in a team is very important. My main reason being that the rest of the team look to the player as a leader on the field, other players can learn a lot from a team captain. A captain can'tjust be any one player,they have to have the right characteristics to succeed as a team captain.

    I've recently started my own football blog, please take time to visit and take part, thanks...

  • Comment number 11.

    I've lamented the lack of an on field captain at United for a couple of seasons now, Neville is a great club captain but the constant passing of the band come game day to my mind lessens an honour that many players aspire to but some may never reach.
    In saying that it doesn't appear to have hurt uniteds on field performance & maybe you only need a captain as a face & mouth for all the off field interviews etc.

  • Comment number 12.

    Paul Mckenna. An example of a superb captain.

  • Comment number 13.

    yep i've always found inspiration from steven gerrard. especially when i wish to attack a defenceless man in a bar with a group of equally mullered professional footballers.

    john terry gets stripped of his captaincy for being involved with the private life of two consenting adults, gerrard captured on cctv attacking a man in a bar not only avoids prosecution but his club by their actions condone thuggery.
    what i dont get is why gerrard got away with it but his accomplices were prosecuted with affray?

    strange sets of values at play?

  • Comment number 14.

    as tedious as comparisons between football and rugby are, i'm going to through one in. martin johnson has been decribed by former lion team-mate scott quinnell as the kind of guy you would run through a brick wall if he told you to as "there would be a hole in the wall where he had been". a football captain should have that same impact on his players. the other rugby comparison is that the only player that can talk to a ref is the captain. i can't see that relationship developing any time soon in football.

    for me a captain should have three assets:-

    1) be a benchmark for commitment to be shown by the players around
    2) responsible for ensuring other players don't drop their commitment
    3) enforce the managers orders on the pitch

    above all though, a captain should be appointed for the players and not for the manager.

  • Comment number 15.

    Diablo, depends on how much money your mates get to take the blame - Ask Jonathan Woodgate!

  • Comment number 16.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Nice to hear different opinions on what makes a good captain-probably
    the very reason why supporters have such varying opinions at times with regards to the best leader for their team!

    The comment re the off field role is interesting as I feel it is a huge part of a captains job. He has to be able to represent the opinion of the dressing room to management and present a positive image of his club. In this respect I don't believe he has to be a popular member of the dressing room, rather a respected one (after all the team joker may be most popular but not capable of commanding the respect and attention of his team mates).

    I would suggest that managers would only consider removing a captaincy from a player, if they feel that certain off field behaviour has compromised their relationship with the other players in the dressing room.

    The comparison with rugby is a difficult one to make, as there is no doubt that there is much more physical contact and raw aggression than in football, which can mean that players can be extremely motivated and "wound up" before starting a match. However, I do agree that the role of the captain in rugby is often greater, and indeed I have played at clubs where the "Living with the Lions" dvd capturing the tour of South Africa is used to inspire teams to use some of the methods the leaders in that side employed.

    While not an official guideline , captain's in the SPL are certainly allowed more dialogue with referees than other players and officials will approach you with any concerns re team mates etc. In my experience of captaining teams over the past few years this communication between referees and captains has improved greatly.

  • Comment number 17.

    nice to hear the refs are listening now jack. if only their eye sight improved a bit more we might be game on :)

  • Comment number 18.

    yeah mr bowyer seemed to get a kick out of it too!

  • Comment number 19.

    Interesting blog. I still think (or rather would like to think) a captain has a role in football, to be the person to try and lift the players if they're 2 goals down as well as the manager. It would also be great to adopt an attitude similar to rugby where the captain is the main line of communication between players and referee should the players have any grievences.

    I know that Jack will choose his words carefully regarding the captaincy at St. Mirren (rightly so) but I think Potter isn't a bad captain. He's experienced and is reliable despite his blip at the end of last season. I can't comment on whether he's respected in the dressing room but if we assume so then he seems a fine captain to me. Although I would be more than happy if Potter, Ross, Paul Gallacher, Chris Innes or Stephen Thomson were to lead the team out.

    One more thing:
    "after all the team joker may be most popular but not capable of commanding the respect and attention of his team mates"

    I've heard Billy Mehmet is the joker of St. Mirren and yes, I imagine it would be difficult to respect anyone with such a ridiculous goal celebration!

  • Comment number 20.

    Jack - you alright? Your injury looked nasty and we fell apart without you. You're a very important player for us, wishing you a speedy recovery!

  • Comment number 21.

    What about Celtic's exodus. Gordon Strachan wanted ''leaders'' for Boro and looked to his old club. Surely it takes more than one strong individual!

    I always think of Phil Neville as a great captain for Everton. He is consistent and isn't afraid to get stuck in, and most of all doesn't drop his head if they go a goal down but will be motivating the rest to pull one back.

  • Comment number 22.

    Jack imagine writing a blog on captaincy and not including a view on John Terry's saga....!! Thank god you didn't

    Dont think captains have the same standing as they used to.. some clubs its almost a ceremonial position rather than an active one..


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