The Paradox of the England Captaincy, And Does Anyone Care?

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There’s always much debate in the English media about who is to be England captain. It seems as though Capello is sticking with Ferdinand, after Gerrard’s successful stint with the arm band. Is Rio a good captain? Who knows? How would he prove he was or wasn’t?

The role of Captain is an odd one. It’s always had tremendous status in the English game but I’ve never really been sure why. In Italy, the player with the most caps tends to do the honours and it’s not seen as such a big deal. In England there seems to be a tendency to want to see the captain as a fine upstanding gent, a role model and a spiffing fellow who is somehow a symbol of the nation. Presumably this is why Terry was stripped of it – because he had somehow proven to be morally not upright enough for the honor. That’s a bit odd really but shows how seriously English football takes the job.

But in reality all he’s required to do is call the coin toss, exchange a pennant and do a few press conferences. The media side of things is a bigger deal than in any previous era and the captain needs to be more articulate than most, which often sounds like a struggle for some of the less loquacious. But it’s not an especially unique skill.

There’s no typical type of man that becomes captain. The shouty ones tend to be the alpha males who take it upon themselves to act as some sort of inspirational figure, though in reality this largely just means clapping your hands together loudly in the tunnel and shouting “C’mon lads!”

Those who are less keen on shouting out a lot, are often said to be leading by example on the pitch. This was often said of David Beckham. Indeed in the 21st century, Beckham was the ideal captain. He could charm the media, look lovely on TV and knock in a few exquisite crosses. As a totem for the brand of Team England he was a marketing man’s dream. Occasionally he would also drag England through a game almost single-handedly, not because he was captain, but because he was that sort of player. It also meant so much to him which, even to someone who finds such accolades rather trivial, felt uplifting and righteous somehow. His belief in the role seemed to elevate the role itself.

In modern football, the captain is really not a general leading his troops into battle, he doesn’t have any unique wisdom nor any properly defined role beyond the ceremonial ones, and yet it remains one of the biggest honors in the game – to captain your country – and even though I can find no reason why it should be so special, even I feel that it would somehow be the pinnacle of your career and something to be mightily proud of. A strange paradox indeed.

Editor’s Note: Johnny’s new book: “We Ate All The Pies: How Football Swallowed Britain Whole” has received the massive honour of being listed as one of William Hill’s Sports Book Of The Year 2010 – the biggest, most prestigious sports books prize in UK.

Buy it here via Amazon US or Amazon UK.


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