The Thorny Issue of Captaincy
Paul picked up on a rumour the other day that Arsene Wenger was all set to announce Gilberto as the new Arsenal captain, with young pretender Cesc Fabregas as his deputy. This is a rumour that appears to be gathering pace, but while it remains unconfirmed (Arsenal? staying quiet? Never!), I thought I would give the subject a lengthier treatment by considering the credentials of the lead candidates for the armband. Of course, this is especially difficult to do nowadays with squad rotation, one must assume that the captain would be an integral part of the team. There is also the issue of player egos, ever more prevalent on the modern game, becoming damaged or assuaged, depending on your viewpoint. In the modern game, the choice of captain has also been as much about marketing and club profile as it has been about vibrating larynxes. (I doubt Tony Adams sold many pairs of nike boots, but he knew how to lead his men).
Candidate number one would be Gilberto Silva. He appears to be the logical choice, as deputy to the now departed Henry, this would seem to be a choice even more obvious than the one presented by the Blair-Brown axis. With Henry injured most of last season, Gilberto took the reins expertly, marshalling his young troops with his air of quiet authority. I have always rated Gilberto's calming influence on the team, but never saw him as a captian until I saw him take the armband. It fits him well, he assumes the extra responsibility and appears to undertake that intangible aura that embellishes great captains. You can't explain it, you can't pin it down, but it's there. It reminds me of an old saying from a playwright, possibly George Bernard Shaw, who said, 'You can't see God, but you know he's there. You can feel his wrath.' As a defensive midfielder and an indispensible member of our side, Gilberto appears ideally placed to be skipper. He's graced and prospered every stage of the game imaginable. However, will his captaincy rein in the development of Diaby and Denilson?
Cesc Fabregas- With Henry gone, Cesc is undoubtedly our star turn. Like Gilberto, Cesc relished the extra responsibility enforced on him by Henry's long absence, becoming the hub of our team. Fabregas is a player that hates to lose, as evidenced by his petulant behaviour in defeat (West Ham away, Carling Cup Final, the infamous outburst at Mark Hughes), which is precisely what this young team needs. In an interview towards the end of last season, Cesc spoke about Arsenal's need to get nasty, I don't think anyone would disagree. Cesc is a player with an unquenchable desire to improve. A young captain for a young team, someone who embodies the new Arsenal. However, I would have reservations as to his long term future and making him captain would look to be a move to appease Fabregas. At 20, one could question whether he was ready yet. I believe he has the potential to be a real leader, but we do not want to fall into the trap of using the captaicy to filate egos. It didn't work with Henry, if anything it made things worse. And shouldn't we be rewarding loyalty rather than trying to induce it?
Kolo Toure- A character of unending guts and desire. Never misses a game, never complains, never, ever, ever gives less than 100%. Would quite literally run through a brick wall should it lay siege on the virginity of the Arsenal goal. Toure is an inspiring character who demands the best from himself and has been thrust in the line of fire following long term injuries to Sol Campbell and William Gallas in the last two seasons. Toure DESERVES captaincy, whether he is the best player to take the armband I am not sure. I think Toure's leadership skills are still in bloom, but they are there. He would be a worthy candidate, but whether he is the best candidate I am not so sure.
Jens Lehmann- As the oldest and most experienced player in our squad, Lehmann could be a dark horse. He's taken the armband before and forms part of the spine of the team. Lehmann is a player who cajoles those around him (whether they be an Arsenal player, an opposition player, a referee, or a bag of crisps caught in an updraft that looked at him wrong) and demands the best. At his best, he is an inspirational player. Think Anfield in February 2006. But at the age of 38, and with two hungry goalkeepers eyeing up his place in the starting line up, he would be very much a short term option. Goalkeppers are too isolated to make good captains and Jens is, ahem, slightly given to the occassional loss of temperament.
Tomas Rosicky- Captains his national side with style and grace. In the wake of Nedved's on off retirement from the Czech Republic, Tommy Gun has fully taken the mantle with a series of virtuoso performances with his national team. However, they have come predominantly by playing in a free role, and I would question whether Rosicky has yet assumed that level of importance or authority in the Arsenal squad. But could be worth a punt in the future.
Freddie Ljungberg- Another experienced campaigner who is unflinchingly loyal to the Arsenal cause. As our longest serving player his name should come into the equation, and his fighting spirit on the pitch is undoubted. However, well, he's just not that good anymore is he? Very much a squad player nowadays, and that is unlikely to change given his increasing propensity towards injury.
William Gallas- An unquestioned leader, the fist clenching, bite your ankles leader from the old school. Gallas is a perfectionist. In fact, why mince words? He's a serial moaner, the sort of guy who would not be adverse to taking a cheeseburger back to the counter should a gherkin be improperly placed. Good. His snarling demand for perfection and will to win would be custom designed to compliment our rhythmic play, he has the requisite experience and ability to guide our youngsters. However, he has not long been an Arsenal player and spent a large slab of last season on the sidelines. Is his influence large enough yet?
To my mind, these are the prime candidates, I am sure they are in Wenger's mind. My tuppence worth is that Gilberto is the uncontested winner as captain. He's a top player, a proven leader and a fantastic ambassador for this football club. His composure and ability to perform on the big occasion make him vital to the equation. Playing as a link man between defence and midfield make him geographically poised to oversee and conduct events on the pitch. Top captians have watershed perormances. I remember Vieira playing a cup replay at Stamford Bridge, virtually crippled by a twisted knee, marshalling the team to a famous victory. I remember Tony Adams calm orchestration of Parma's downfall in Copenhagen in 1994. Roy Keane in Turin 99, David Beckham Old Trafford in 2001. For Gilberto, it was Stamford Bridge last season, fathering a young and inexperienced side with his knowhow and diffusing explosive situations. I would marginally opt for Toure as vice captain ahead of Gallas. Gallas is 30 now and Toure is a better long term option. I think the manager has been looking to foster his leadership abilities for the last two years and, though he's not there yet, I see Toure being the type of guy who can marshall this team in the years to come. He's at an ideal age, is an excellent ambassador (who doesn't lift his skirt Spainwards every summer) and just plain deserves it. LD.