Does the captaincy really matter in football?

January 8, 2009

Here’s a question for you: Who is Manchester United’s official club captain?

The hullabaloo surrounding the England cricket skipper has shown how different the role is in the two sports.

I think Gary Neville is actually the club captain at United, but to be honest I’m not sure. He has been injured for most of the last two years so Ryan Giggs took over.

The Welshman is in and out of the team, though, so Rio Ferdinand has donned the armband the most recently. (The pair lifted the Champions League trophy in May, see right, with poor Gary left on the sidelines).

Let’s face it, it doesn’t really matter who the captain is on the football field. Technical areas are so large now that coaches can bark the orders and leave centre backs, traditionally the obvious skippers, to the defending.

In Spain, clubs often have several club captains and in Italy it generally goes to the most-experienced player.

Paolo Maldini, 40, is club captain at AC Milan but plays once every three games. If the captain was that important, wouldn’t they appoint one who played every game?

At Euro 2008 after Fabio Cannavaro was ruled out through injury, the Italy captaincy switched between Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon depending on whether Del Piero was picked or not. In this case, the situation made Italy’s bungling performances worse and is perhaps an instance where one clear skipper was needed.

In cricket, the captain is all-important given he decides field placings, bowling changes, declarations etc.

As we have seen with Kevin Pietersen’s demise, the way a captain conducts himself off the field with management is equally important.

Maybe football has learnt from this too. A club captain can be the bridge between the team and the coach but that doesn’t mean he has to be on the field.

PHOTO: Manchester United players Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Ryan Giggs and Tomasz Kuszczak celebrate with the Champions League trophy after defeating Chelsea in the final at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow May 22, 2008. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

6 comments

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I think you’re right that it’s a minor issue on the field. It’s much more important behind the scenes, where it’s not so important that a captain plays every game, more that he is the most respected person in the dressing room.

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

i couldn’t disagree with you more..first of all do you play football??
i myself played for some years and i know that i captain is the one that gives you the strength to go on when you are tired..he is the one you shouts to everyone when they need someone to do so and he is the one who has the right to ask and talk with the referee about the cards given or not.plus he has to give the right example about the life outside the field..look at del piero or raul..
all in all i think the captain has a very important role in a team you just can’t see it from the outside..who lifts the trophy and who doesn’t is irrelevant..

Posted by nikolas | Report as abusive

and is it just me or are most german captains goalkeepers? kahn comes to mind to me first but he retired :(

Posted by Weston | Report as abusive

[...] Reuters Soccer Blog » Does the captaincy really matter in football? "Let’s face it, it doesn’t really matter who the captain is on the football field." (tags: england kapitän) [...]

“Paolo Maldini, 40, is club captain at AC Milan but plays once every three games. If the captain was that important, wouldn’t they appoint one who played every game?”

What a ill researched statement.

Maldini has played 12 games for Milan this season, thats 2 more than Kaladze and only one less than first choice rightback Zambrotta.

Maldini is captain because he is everything a footballer should be, 24 seasons at Milan, some players dont even play for 14 years.

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

Fair point that Maldini’s history should make him the obvious captain but Milan have played 2160 minutes of competitive football this season and Maldini has managed 1120 minutes (he wont have started every game so I thought it was fairer to say 1 in 3)
If he didnt play these games because of injury then ok, but generally he doesnt play every game because he is getting on. Hence adds to our conclusion that a captain is more important off the field than on it.

Posted by Mark M | Report as abusive

Leadership ability is the key attribute for a successful team captain whether it be soccer, rugby or ice hockey, or cricket for that matter. The captain must be an inspiration to team mates. They must be highly respected for their maturity, character and knowledge of the game. While it is sometimes the best player on the team, superstars with hugh ego’s and individuals who are “not team payers” are rarely a successful captain. The best choice is usually the most obvious to team mates and fans alike.

Posted by Bill Hayes | Report as abusive