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PostPosted: Sun Aug 26, 2018 7:30 pm 
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Joined: Thu Mar 23, 2006 11:46 am
Posts: 30742 ... er-captain

Just how important is the captain? He divides up the matchday tickets for the players, he leads the team out, chooses which end to kicks towards and, if you're really lucky, he may just be the difference between success and failure.

I read last week that the England armband has been passed around like a live grenade, but I have had the honour of the captaincy and it's amazing how a little armband (infuriatingly put on upside down most of the time – how hard can it be?) can make you push your chest out with pride and feel a foot taller. As much as players pretend they don't care, secretly, deep down, almost everybody wants to be captain.

A captain should be the player above all others in whom one can absolutely confide. He acts as the link between the dressing room and the manager, but where there may be tensions between the squad and the club's hierarchy he will always act in the interests of the players and represent them in any disputes. From negotiating bonuses and player fines to club functions and time off, a captain has to be the one player who concerns himself with the off-field politics of a football club.

Whenever I have been the captain I would arrive early on a match day. Ten minutes before the teams take to the pitch to warm up (usually 2:20pm) the two captains are called to the referees' room for a chat not dissimilar to the one a boxing referee will have with two fighters. What started off as a way of handing in the team sheet (a £2,000 fine from the Premier League if it's even a minute late) has graduated to a talk from the ref about what he expects once the match is under way. After you shake hands with all the officials and then the other captain the referee will say something like: "OK lads [nicknames], you're both old enough and ugly enough, don't #$% me about, if you've got a problem just talk to me, yeah? If one of your players is behaving in an aggressive way to me, my colleagues or another player then I expect you to sort it out before I have to book him. Good luck." Followed by handshakes all round.

I played under one captain who had the armband by default after an injury to our first choice. He accepted it in name only and set about commissioning the kit man to produce a personalised hybrid version. What he ended up with was a Tubigrip, which is the sort of thing you put around a sprained ankle, with a giant "C" handwritten with a black marker pen. The new armband spanned the entire length of his upper arm. Some players are like that: they want everybody to know they are captain while pretending it's no big deal. He lost a lot of respect after that stunt.

Strangely, the most successful side I played in had the most unappreciated captain. Thinking back, there were a lot of things that were ignored or swept under the carpet simply because things were going so well for us on the pitch, but the one thing that still grates, despite the good times, was that our captain will go down as one of the most successful in the club's history without really earning it. Selfishness is the worst trait a captain can have and this player had it in spades.

Every year, a few weeks before the season starts, the players get together to discuss the "squad bonuses". There are the common ones, such as win bonuses, but also the less obvious, like bonuses relating to final league position or "£2,000 per point", based on a final total. To this day I don't know why players don't stick £5k in a kitty and get an agent to do it for them.

On one occasion our club did not want to negotiate. We had exhausted most of our bargaining power and on the day that we were due to sign (all bonuses have to be submitted to the league by a certain date) we had one last option, which was to boycott the team photo. This may sound like a fairly hollow threat, but from a sponsorship and political point of view, it is a huge deal. On the morning photo shoot we refused to change into the new kit. The chief executive pleaded with us, but we stood firm, all except one. Outside on the pitch, alone, stood our captain, in full kit and ready to go. At a time when we needed a leader he had sold us down the river. He was never forgiven, and from that moment was shunned by the squad; anything he tried to organise fell on deaf ears and any time he needed a favour he didn't get it. It was no coincidence that this lack of leadership contributed to a very tough time for the team on the pitch.

The ideal captain can scream at his team-mates, disagree with the manager and still maintain a flawless relationship with each and every one thanks to the respect in which he is held. A friend that played for Manchester United under Roy Keane told me this week: "When I was a young pro, I was having a really tough time with my contract, I didn't have an agent and didn't know what to do. Keane went in with me to see Ferguson and sorted everything out for no other reason than he was the captain of the football club. The next day he was swearing at me for misplacing a pass."

Whoever gets the England captaincy must lead the team by example, which doesn't mean running around like a lunatic and tackling aggressively. I feel the captain ought to be the best player on the pitch. He doesn't need to shout and scream, or rough players up, but instead should be the one player whose standards his team-mates aspire too.

I'm proud to say that I have captained a professional team, but the politics of the role mean you can spend more time arranging things off the field than getting things right on it and that's something I no longer have the hunger for. While, for me, there is no more important job on a football pitch, today there are more important things off it.

"Will we next create false gods to rule over us? How proud have we become, and how blind."

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