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Go Hard or Go Home with Colin Hendry: What is a Good Captain?

So – what’s a captain… and what’s a good captain? If you aren’t a football player, just a fan, then it can be unclear as to what the role of a football captain entails. To the casual observer, it just looks like the guy who’s been there the longest and has the armband. The, to the more avid supporter it’s the player who take the biggest responsibility on the pitch – the one who gees his team up when the going gets tough – and the guy who keeps his team working together effectively.

However, to his team mates he’s so much more. So, what are the roles and responsibilities of the captain and, more importantly, what makes for a good captain? We asked Colin Hendry what he made of this and who he sees as the best team captains past and present.

The Role of a Captain

The captain has many roles to his team, so what are the main responsibilities? Let’s take a look:

Being a Representative for the Team

Firstly, the captain should represent his team effectively when it comes to decisions about the game. For example, before the game, the captain is the one responsible for representing his team to the referee and the opposing side. He is responsible for the coin toss at the start of the game. The captain is also the player that is responsible for mediating between players and the referee if there are decisions that cannot be agreed on.

Mediating Between the Coach / Manager and Team

A good captain is the player that acts as a go between with the manager / coach and the team. As Hendry says, “the manager often has meetings with the captain before training. Sometimes there are times when players don’t get on with managers; a squad can have 28+ players in it and only 11 players will start – that doesn’t always go down well. The captain can gauge the mood of the team and report back to the manager. A good captain should always respect the manager and coach. I used to have meetings with Kenny on a Friday to talk through issues and make sure everything is okay. The captain has to be the bridge between the manager and the team.

If a team is playing a lot of tough games, then the captain needs to tell the manager if the training needs to tone down a little bit. The manager needs to listen to the captain for the club’s feelings. He can help organize the schedule and make sure that they are not stretching the players too much.

This is especially the case with international managers as they don’t have the players as much so aren’t as aware of how far the player can be stretched. However, it’s a bit different now with appointed fitness coaches who are paid to be responsible for a lot of that nowadays – it’s all more scientific.” So, if there’s a problem between the manager and the dressing room, the captain should be mediating.

Being a Leader

Simply put, a good captain is a good leader. As Hendry says “A good captain needs to be a role model on and off the pitch. He should be able to control the game play; the captain should be able to keep the players level headed on the pitch if things get a little heated; he should also be able to slow down and speed up or slow down the play and control and organize the players. the captain  really should stand out on the pitch”.

He should also be a role model off the pitch – he shouldn’t be pictured going out and causing troubles, stirring up negative headlines. The team captain should be looked up to by players, fans and the general public. They represent the club and need to behave as such. The captain is responsible for helping younger players become better.

Choosing a Team Captain

Obviously, you can’t just give the captaincy to anyone. So, what should be considered when awarding captaincy? Well, firstly the captain can’t just be the player with the hardest kick, the highest goal scorer or the fastest runner. The captain needs to be highly respected by all players and promote hard work and honest play. If the captain does not fit this bill, it can cause negative reactions within the team and outside it.

Another this to bear on mind, as Hendry states, is the placement of the player. “A lot of the best captains have been central defenders or midfielders – players who are always in the middle of the action and who are always where the game play is. They can then try to influence the play more.

In my opinion it doesn’t work as well if the captain is the goalie as they are not as able to control the game as well from their position. It’s also difficult for a striker to be captain… although not impossible as there have been good captains that are strikers – such as Totti.

I think that a good captain should be a good organizer, great communicator and a winner. These are the three main things to consider when choosing your captain.”

Who Are/Were the Best Captains?

Well, obviously this is a matter of opinion based on your team and your take on history. However, when asking Hendry who he believed were the best captains and why, he was very emphatic with his choices.

Gary McAllister

For those unfamiliar with McAllister, he is a Scottish professional football coach, a former player and the current assistant manager of Rangers. McAllister was primarily a midfielder with a career that spanned over nineteen years. He started his career at Motherwell, and played for Leicester City, Leeds United, Coventry City and Liverpool, as well as representing the Scottish national side.

In his time as a player he captained Leeds United as well as Scotland in Euro 96. Hendry says of McAllister “He was as good a player as I have ever seen or played football with – and his skills compare to anyone, including Shearer. Gary was also incredibly fit, standing head and shoulders above most in many ways.

What makes him a great captain was not only his organizational skills and communication skills, but he was a winner. With Liverpool he won the FA Cup, Football League Cup, FA Charity Shield, UEFA Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. His attitude and dynamism ensured that he was a winner and as a captain he instilled that attitude into his team.”

Tony Adams

Undoubtedly no football fan around will not have heard of Tony Adams – as a magnificent player, and in Hendry’s eyes, a magnificent captain. Within his career, he played for Arsenal and England – and captained both.

In the eyes of many Arsenal fans, he is considered one of the greatest Arsenal players of all time – and in Hendry’s eyes he is one of the greatest captains of all times. Hendry’s believes that he too embodied what it took to be a great captain – organization of his team, communication skills – and he was another winner. With Arsenal, he won the First Division, Premier League twice, FA Cup three times, Football League Cup, Football League Centenary Trophy, European Cup Winners’ Cup and FA Charity Shield.

Hendry says of his experience with Adams “He captained England against Scotland in 2000, where England beat Scotland 2-1. However, it was a very close game and there were some great saves from Seaman. The game was tough for both sides and there were a lot of good chances. I remember at the end of the game, after England won 2-1 on aggregate, Adams approached me and had the humility to say that it could easily have been a draw and that Scotland did deserve a point from the game. To me, a great captain has great humility and he showed that.”

 

John Terry

Hendry never played alongside Terry, although he still appreciates his role as the Chelsea and England captain. This centre-back always instilled pride and passion into the heart of his Chelsea team mates, and as such is now seen, by Hendry and others, as one of the greatest captains of all time.

Terry’s ability to communicate with his team is undeniable, as the stereotypical picture of Terry playing is one where he’s shouting at players and pointing – organizing his team mates at all times – and this clearly paid off. As Chelsea captain he led them to enormous success, with 5 Premier League wins, 5 FA Cup wins, 3 Football League Cup wins, FA Community Shield win, UEFA Champions League win and a Europa League win. It’s fair to say he’s won every award possible. It’s clear to see why, with these honours, he could be named up there.

Unfortunately, there was some controversy about his actions off the pitch; however, he never let anything affect his game and always led his team to victory.

Graeme Souness

Souness is another successful football captain that, as Hendry states, is one of the best captains of all time. “Souness was an exceptional role model” Hendry states. The midfielder, whose career spanned from 1970 to 1991, played for teams such as Middlesborough, Liverpool, Sampdoria and Rangers – as well as the Scottish national team. In this time, he captained the Liverpool team, the Scottish national team and became the first player/manager for Rangers.

One of the main reasons he has this honour from Hendry, is that aside from being exceptional role model, he absolutely embodied the idea of being a winner. With Liverpool, he managed to win 5 League Championships, 3 European Cups and 4 League Cups – an incredible even seasons.

 

Carles Puyol

The last of Hendry’s greatest captains of all times is Carles Puyol, the retired Spanish Central Defender – regarded by many as one of the greatest defenders of his generation. He was captain for his club, Barcelona, well respected by players and fans alike. Puyol appeared in almost 600 competitive club matches and played for his country 100 times – and was a pivotal part of the team that won Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.

He has been described as “the strongest”, “the player with the quickets reactions and the most explosive strength” and he was often referred to as “The Wall”. However, it was more than that that made him so well loved. He was described as a mature player with great positional sense and, most importantly for any captain – pride in his shirt.

His work ethic was such that he would often carry on training alone after a practice session. He was also very humble, saying “I don’t have Ronaldo’s technique, Overmars’ pace or Kluivert’s strength but I work harder than the others.” This was backed up by team mate, Pique saying that he was a player that, even if you were 3-0 up minutes from the end, would still shout at you if he thought your concentration was going. He also never stopped believing they could win, even at 4-0 down.

Hendry also picked up on Puyol’s level headedness in play, which was embodied perfectly when a lighter was thrown on the pitch in a match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, aimed at Pique. As Pique was about to complain to the referee, Puyol took him aside and advised him to just get on with the game, which saved the ref having to investigate the incident, and allowed the game to go on to a 1-1 conclusion.

What Makes a Good Captain?

Well Hendry sums it up as 3 main points that make a good Captain – organization, communication and being a winner. Every one of those five captains embodies all of those qualities. They also throw into the mix humility and the ability to keep a level head and diffuse a situation. The ability to sort any problem out off the pitch, in a controlled manner.

Conversely, a captain should not be a trouble maker. He should not be a player who makes rash decisions, gets red carded or uses his position to intimidate other players. The captain should help solve problems, not create them.

So, do you agree? Who would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments…

Colin’s Top Tips

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