There are few words which tend to get associated with the term ‘captain’ as soon as we think, or speak of it. These include words such as leader, master and phrases such as commander of the crew and always evoke a sense of supremacy for the men that have succeeded in holding a tag as exalted as the ‘captain’. And this word or all of these words are so fondly used in sports, that there are games in which the skipper is credited for everything the side he captains, does. The side wins, the captain gets lauded, the side loses, and the captain gets bashed. But few would’ve noticed that in the beautiful game of football, nothing such as this is prevalent, ever since the inception of the sport.
People hardly seem to realize the importance of captains and their role in football. By ‘people’, I refer to people who aren’t remotely interested in the game, but are more into sports like cricket, in which the camera always traces the skipper’s path during a live broadcast on television. The ball goes past the fence; the camera begins focusing on the expressions of the skipper, which clearly register worry and agitation. As soon as the game draws to a close, the presentation ceremony always consists of a chat involving the skipper of both the sides, well before the Man of the Match accolade is presented. The skipper sets the field, switches bowlers, advises the bowler as to which areas he must bowl in and even decides when to take up power plays as the games wear on. All in all, everything that happens on the field revolves around the skipper of the side, directly or indirectly.
When it comes to football, the cameras are always on the lookout for the leading goal scorer or a player as prominent as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or Wayne Rooney. Although, all these players, as per the status quo captain their respective sides, but world renowned stars such as Neymar, Arjen Robben and Eden Hazard always tend to steal spotlights, where ever they play. But, have we ever seen football captains stealing as many credits as the cricket captains, barring the situations when they have score crucial goals?
In football, players who grab ever crucial goals, with the help of which their sides go on to win games always turn a lot of heads. The mere definition of a skipper has been blurred, despite of the fact that they always play a colossal role in propelling the team in doing and achieving things that they actually end up doing. His role often goes unnoticed in football but there are occasions when he tends to make the big difference. An average, mid table side can well assume the form of a top club, thanks to the leadership abilities of the skipper. Everything seemingly is dictated by the old man, who stands by the touchline, screaming orders at the top of his voice, wearing a suit.
The peculiar thing which most captains possess is that they aren’t the best player on the pitch by any means, nor are they a player whose flair exceeds that of all others, but that never say die spirit which always has a bearing on whatever they do, makes a hell lot of difference. Not just individually, but for the whole team. They wear their heart on their sleeve, put team mates into their respective positions and ooze commitment towards the badge on their chest.
The likes of Oliver Kahn, Carles Puyol, Roy Keane and Patrick Viera are prime examples of skippers who lead the team by an example. Their tendency to always keep the team on their toes, and acting as buccaneering forces of propulsion is heralded all across the world.
But, apart from Kahn, were these players extremely adept at actually playing football? No. What separated them from the other fellow team members was their sheer commitment and iron-willed determination.
Many fail to realize how tricky a job it is to don the armband of a football club before they actually end up donning one.
What does a captain of a football team do?
Although, it’s the managers’ job to nail down a certain formation that the side is supposed to adhere to, but the captain’s role comes in when the side isn’t getting along well enough and isn’t doing the expected on the pitch. Even if the players struggle to fit into a particular formation, the captain’s faith and his desire to win the game, which claim a place in the mentality of the players, helps them achieve things they couldn’t have achieved in his absence.
Not everyone in this world can be a strong personality, and can impose his influence over the others as well as skippers in football actually do. If the morale of a side hits rock bottom, the onus falls on the captain to cheer them on and boost their spirits. And this isn’t child’s play by any means. There are players in the side, who have a lot of swagger about their personality or those who get disheartened easily than the others. And the captain has to bring them on the same page, such that they work together to achieve the goal.
Not just this, but skippers also act as mediums between the players and the match officials during a game. Some years ago, we used to witness the whole team swarm around the referee to influence a decision, but in modern day football, the referee approaches the captain if he wants to convey anything to his side. And there are occasions when a player gets wind up for one reason or another and the captain is the one who helps that player in keeping a cool head, such that things may not blow over.
In the absence of a strong willed leader, a side lacks the resolve to recover from bad situations. Arsenal have been lacking a skipper with a Patrick Viera-esque resolve ever since the Frenchman left for Inter Milan. Even Manchester United are deficient in having an imposing personality such as someone like Nemanja Vidic at back, or someone who organizes the defense, puts junior players into their respective positions. These players had excellent communication skills and had a very vocal approach towards speaking something out to the side, which is very important for any captain in the game.
To outsiders, captaining in football seems quite an easy job, which includes the tag of being a nominal leader stapled to your name. But from the inside, after donning the skipper’s armband, many players can cripple under its pressure and its demands of leading the side out in everything that the side does.
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