by Noel Draper
Having played a bit of football myself at various levels over the years I have often wondered if there is any real need for a captain to be actually on the pitch. Sure, he was good for tossing the coin and shaking hands with his opposite number, but does he really need to be a first team regular? Does a team need just one man to lead them or should a team have eleven captains, all leading by example?
Of course you can dig up examples of singular captains such as a blooded and bandaged Terry Butcher defiantly holding off the combined might of Sweden’s attack before grinning psycho like at the waiting camera or an upright and gentleman-like Bobby Moore playing a waiting game with Pele before politely mugging him and strolling away with the ball but I can throw back at you teams full of leaders such as the 1990 West Germany team or the Liverpool teams of the late 70’s and early 80’s.
So, as you can probably tell, I have always gone down the eleven captains on the pitch route, thinking that the experience within the group will be enough to lead the team, but after watching two very different games over the weekend I think I might have to amend my ideas. In one of those matches I saw what happens when a captain leads the team and in the other one I saw what happens when a captain decides that he really can’t be bothered to be a leader anymore, at least for the next 90 minutes.
The second captain’s name? Step forward a certain Mr Joseph Barton, who from the very beginning when Daniel Sturridge blasted Chelsea’s first goal, decided that it wasn’t his day and proceeded to play like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He complained about everything, shrugging his shoulders when passes didn’t come his way, moaning at the referee when decisions went against him and even at one point, when the official was trying to call him back for a deserved booking, waved his hand in the air in a nonchalant manner as though he couldn’t care less. The little wave said it all. Book me it said. Book me as I really don’t care today. Just book me.
Joey seemed to care more about the state of his 50’s quiff than what was happening around him which was a shame as the group of players that he was supposed to be leading caught the laissez-faire bug and capitulated completely. They were crying out for a leader, someone to show fight and spirit, someone to drag the team into a winning position or at least snatch a draw especially as the team in question were hanging onto their Premiership survival by the skin of their teeth, but they got nothing apart from advice on hair care products and promptly lost 6-1.
Fast forward to Monday night’s non title decider at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester where the home team needed a win to keep their slim chances of winning the Premier League alive. What they also needed was a captain to lead the team and to show the level of passion and commitment required for the job in hand. That captain’s name? Step forward a certain Mr Vincent Kompany, who, from the obligatory pre-match handshake right up until the final hoofed goal kick into the cold Manchester air, showed the watching world what was expected if you were given the honour of leading your team.
He fought for every ball. He tackled. He passed. He shouted at teammates. He organised. He headed the winning goal. When he was booked for a challenge he didn’t wander off waving his hand in the air trying to look like some sort of modern day dandy but instead he took the punishment respectfully, realising that he had fouled his opponent and as such deserved a yellow card. This attitude rubbed off on the players around him and they played together, as one, as a team. There was the small chance of winning the Premier League at stake after all.
So I have changed my mind – you do need a captain on the pitch. Sure, having a few more leaders around helps, but when push comes to shove, when the weaker willed need someone to look up to and someone to draw inspiration from, one man needs to stand tall. That man is your captain. Your leader. Vincent Kompany was that man on Monday night. Joey Barton wasn’t on Sunday afternoon and never will be even on another day of the week. No matter how much he twitters on.