Arsenal - Does the Captaincy Matter?
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Does the Captaincy Matter?

Since the departure of Patrick Vieira, the issue of captaincy has reared its thorny head from the rose bush more than once amongst Arsenal fans. From Henry's moon faced shrugs to Gallas' teary tantrum, the armband has attracted many a pontificating broadside, from myself included. But does captaincy actually matter anymore? In England, we're raised on fairy stories of Bobby Moore's ability to play a sixty yard ball onto a five pence piece before dashing off to lift the Jules Romet trophy with his winning smile and charming side parting. Arsenal fans remember the gritted teeth of McLintock and the slanting posture of Adams surveying the scene.

But in modern football, does this position have any relevance anymore? On the continent, the captaincy is usually automatically awarded to the most experienced player, or to whoever came through the youth team. (See Raul, Totti, Maldini for examples). Continental sides see the skipper as little more than a glorified PR position, the bigger clubs tend to lean towards experience/ age, the smaller clubs usually award it to the star player as a commercial figurehead, like Atletico Madrid did with Torres. In England, we take it a little more seriously. It's perhaps paradigmatic of our constant quest for 'identity' that one associates with an island mentality, it's the same reason we cling steadfastly to the institution of monarchy. Perhaps captaincy and monarchy are similar bedfellows, monarchy is essentially an impotent figurehead position is attributed as much to the idea of 'identity' as any meaningful method of governance. So in Britain we expect to see our captains performing some good old fashioned hand wringing and fist pumping on matchday, we want pictures of them screaming obscenities at teammates in the matchday programme on one page and a shot of them with children and flags on the other. It's a very English trait to be obsessed with iconography, hence the obsession with terms such as 'chav' or 'toff' and all of the associated imagery. (In fairness, this probably happens in other cultures too).

But once the toss has been called and the obligatory pre match photo with the mascot has been taken, what does the captaincy mean in real footballing terms? Surely every player should be capable of motivating themselves without having their ear chewed off by the skipper? But there again, everybody looks to someone for guidance every now and then. In your own jobs, perhaps you have a manager or colleague that you look up to to be a conduit through pressured moments. But on a football pitch is it a piece of material or a positional responisbility? You would imagine your goalkeeper, your centre half and your central midfielder would all have a hand in organising and communicating with the team. Should an armband really preclude other players from guiding younger charges? I remember Freddie Ljungberg's debut, no sooner had he sauntered onto the pitch than Nigel Winterburn had him by the arm, cajoling and instructing him. Adams was the captain that day. Had that situation emerged today, I feel Gallas would have been lambasted ruthlessly by Arsenal fans if another player, Sagna say, was seen giving Nasri an earful in the West Brom match. My issue is not with Gallas' captaincy, but as to whether he has enough lieutenants. It is easy to chide Billy's tenure, but even Adams had Dixon, Winterburn, Keown and Bould alongside him.

I think I have come to the conclusion very recently that it really is not that important who the captain is. For all the clamour to give Cesc the armband, would it really improve his game? It would in all likelihood only add pressure to him such is the obsession with the captain's armband in this country. I am certain he could handle it, but I am really not sure what it would add to him. He doesn't need the armband to be our most important player. Gallas has come in for yet more criticism following the defeat to Fulham. Whilst his defending for the goal was abysmal and he needs to ask himself why Hangeland wanted the ball more than he did, I'm not sure that his poor captaincy was one of the factors behind the defeat. I'm not entirely sure what it was that he was supposed to have done. Some photo friendly fist shaking perhaps? Would that have made our lightweight midfield any more muscular? (The guy's criticised for doing that anyway as far as I can see). While I've always considered a captain to be primus inter pares, it is surely unfair to lay the blame exclusively at the door of one man? Surely once the whistle blows, the team has a responsibility to itself?

I am starting to wonder in the cut throat world of modern football where players change clubs with alacrity and largely play for themselves, whether the skippers armband is really anything more than a glorified PR position governed by press conferences and photo shoots. Are you really telling me players like Adebayor, Ronaldo and Berbatov give a screw who their captain is? It has never been considered anything other than that abroad and I wonder whether we are linked to some romantic notion that doesn't really exist, a bit like 'English identity' and 'Bulldog spirit.' Does an armband make you a leader and does not having an armband inhibit your ability to be one? Isn't leadership a collective concept? The Prime Minister would not govern without a Cabinet. Or has football just got to a stage where characters such as Roy Keane and Tony Adams are extinct? The truth is, I'm not sure I know the answer.LD.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Monday August 25 2008

Time: 5:05PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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It means nothing to me.
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25/08/2008 18:23:00

A fall out from the criticism from arseblog, no doubt, LD. That man is constantly annoying in his whinging about Gallas' captaincy. It was a terrible piece of defending, but how is Gallas the captain to blame for the mistake of Gallas the defender. And how is every poor performance from Arsenal a result of poor captaincy ? Did we excel in every game we played under Adams and Vieira ? I'm sure the team had off days during their captaincy as well. Just like we do under Gallas. I'm tired of this tendency to pick out certain players to blame when something goes wrong and Gallas has become every gooners whipping boy.
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25/08/2008 20:54:00

the worst thing about Gallas being captain is that (wenger feels) he cannot be dropped.
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25/08/2008 21:34:00

I had a sense of foreboding when I saw that AW had brought back the Gallas-Toure pairing and dropped Djourou. I've lost faith in them as an effective defensive pair. Yes I know they did well for half of last season but they haven't recaptured that effectiveness since the 2nd half. Loaning out Senderos--a tall experienced CB--is crazy as is the idea of loaning out Djourou (an even worse idea which will make me absolutely livid). Yes I know he has his failings but we can't afford to lose him, even with Silvestre coming in (a defender known for comical errors whenever he played at LB for MU and is already injured). I think it's ludicrous to keep leaving out Senderos and Djourou as I think our best defensive pairing is either Gallas/Senderos or Gallas/Djourou or Kolo/Senderos or Kolo/Djourou. But not Gallas/Kolo. I am a huge AW fan but I am losing confidence in him. I'm worried that we will not be able to depend on Cesc given his summer exertions and now his pre-season injury, since AW brought him back too early. How will we manage without Cesc? Last season we had Hleb to rely on him when he wasn't available. I am trying hard not to give into my fears about how we'll finish this season but the fact is right now we do not have the strength in talent we had last season, with the departures of Hleb and Flam. Yes, Nasri's a fantastic talent but he's not enuf to compensate for our summer losses.
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25/08/2008 22:20:00

As to the captaincy....I honestly don't know how much it matter just who's captain, what matters is whether or not there are leaders on the pitch. At the moment, I really cannot answer that question with any degree of certainty.
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25/08/2008 22:22:00

The captaincy does matter to me, the fact that Gallas defended terribly is one thing but my problem with him now as last year is that he does not rally the troops. Yes, I wish I would see some fist pumping from him, do you remember how Flamini used to urge the team, we didnt win every match but so what. In every area of life, every team sport, as long as you have more than one person involved so, you need some one to lead, its life. How can we really expect all the players to be leaders when the captian is not being an example t tohem of it? especially seeing that our players are young, he is an elder and the captian so he needs to do his job. He needs to stir the players up when we are low, HE MUST START! God Bless!!!
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26/08/2008 00:36:00

This is one of the areas where what my father said had an effect on my overall opinion. Captains are leaders, leaders need to remain strong and inspire the rest of the team through good and bad. Anyway who the Captain is does matter as they need to motivate players when all hope is lost, or motive them to go the extra distance. If the leader is weak in any scenario the rest will crumble. So far I think Gallas is an acceptable captain, with maturity I think Cesc would be far better as he has the right type of hunger.
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26/08/2008 02:46:00

Gunners - that is if we can keep Cesc with us for that long....hey Jaelle, u may as well take out Senderos from the equation as he is off to Milan - have a feeling he will turn out to be a really good defender in the future
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26/08/2008 10:13:00

ok, let me try - I think there are 2 basic roles of a captain, one (to quote u Tim) is the PR role which basically involves tossing of coin, introducing the team to VIPs (if there is one), lifting a trophy (we r still in it, aren't we?); the other is the chief guiding and motivating force on the pitch. If the manager is the CEO, then a captain could well be likened to a GM. But then, the GM would need the aid of supervisors to help motivate the troops where necessary. This is especially so if the GM is a goalkeeper (which I personally feel is the worst possible choice for the role of captain). So perhaps there's a need for a supervisor each in defence, midfield and attack respectively (although it would be trickier when it comes to 4-5-1 formation where the lone striker may end up "supervising" himself). So is captain still required in today's game? I'd like to thing so. The question is more to appoint the right man for the job. Is Gallas our right man? Looking at our entire squad, I'd like to think he is the logical choice given his vast experience. Is he the best choice? I don't have the answer to that but the guy had already promised to improve as a captain, why can't we just give him the chance and let him do the job?
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26/08/2008 11:06:00

GM? Basically we were spoiled for so long with TA we're all yearning for another one. I'm gonna whisper it, but i didn't think Paddy was the best 'captain' at the time and Henry most certainly wasn't. I'm sitting on the fence with the 'give Cesc the armband' issue, can it really improve his game? I just don't think there are any real leaders in that team.
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26/08/2008 11:29:00

Although the captaincy is not as important on the pitch in football as, say, Rugby or Cricket, but I think the team still needs a figurehead. It 'should' also give the ref a point of contact in the team if he needs to get a point across. Unfortunately the communication between referee and player isn't utilised enough anymore. Probably because a lot of players don't know how to communicate properly!
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26/08/2008 12:04:00

I agree that we don't have enough leaders. I said at the end of last season that Gallas was made to carry too much of a burden because he was the only player with any leadership capabilities and there's only so much one man can do. I look at the spine and Almunia is not commanding enough to be a leader like Jens was, Toure is a fine defender but not a leader. Not yet anyway. I think Senderos had leadership qualities but we've brilliantly decided to let him go. Fabregas has leadership and it's important that whoever we sign to partner him has it too. Adebayor and van Persie are not leaders in the way Bergkamp was. Last season a massive part of our improvement was down to the fact that we did the nasty things better, a lot of that was down to the introduction of Flamini and the growing of Fabregas. We've gone backwards in this area by shedding Lehmann, Flamini and Gilberto and we haven't signed anybody experienced/ nasty enough to replace those qualities. That's why I'd be underwhelmed by signing Alonso, brilliant player though he is (at the moment though, I'd take Alonso over nobody) because I don't really see him toughening us up. The truth is, I'm not sure where the Boss is going with this squad, we sign a decent back up like Silvestre and were told it was for depth purposes, then we promptly get rid of two defenders. So he HASN'T bought depth at all, quite the opposite in fact.
Little Dutch
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26/08/2008 13:21:00

Alumina seems to be a great leader to me? he always seems to get under the players tail when necessary as he did to Gallas when he was jumping on Djourou. If we do not have enough leaders Gallas should groom and encourage them to be. I dont see where all this pressure was put on him, he is the captian and it seems like he wants the jobs. The head should take the most responsibility, thats the whole point. Gunners, the captian should rally the troops, does Gallas do that? Temasek, Its not about giving Gallas a chance, I think leadership should be easy to see, yes you have to learn but the qualities should be evident especially as Gallas was captian last year. I have no problem with him as a player but just maybe the leadership qualities are not in him, or else we surely would have seen something of it in the Fulham match. God Bless!!!
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26/08/2008 17:16:00

Like I said though, you need leaders in all areas of the pitch. Asit stands, Gallas is the only one. Adams had Winterburn, Seaman, Dixon, Smudger and in his earlier days O'Leary helping him. Vieira had Campbell, Keown and Bergkamp. Who does Gallas have other than maybe Cesc?
Little Dutch
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26/08/2008 19:40:00

Yes captains do matter. FFS just look at Gerrard Champs league final!!! Having a captain like him or adams is part of english football, ok perhaps we are not super english team but we are an english club in an english league. However i don't think all our bad playing had been down to whos the captain our players are just ****e full stop
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27/08/2008 10:52:00

Like Gerrard in the CL Final? The one where he played so poorly that Hamann had to come on at half time and do his work whilst Stevie, tired of being outplayed by Kaka and Gattuso, was shunted upfront and out of the way? Please don't fall for that fairy story.
Little Dutch
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27/08/2008 11:48:00

If we have no leaders it is uo to Gallas as a captain to show them how to be one, he is the captain and that should have more responsibilty than just wearing the armband. I remember Gilberto being an excellent leader with the youth. I guess we disagree about Alumina, he is a good leader in my opinion.
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27/08/2008 17:27:00


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