What Makes a Captain Indispensable?

When Steven Gerrard moves on from Liverpool at the end of this season, it will mark a major change for a man who has been at Liverpool for his whole career, and has been captain of the club for much of it. As Gerrard departs, it's worth asking, what makes a great captain?

Jordan Henderson is the man Brendan Rodgers has asked to fill Gerrard's role, but what has been noticeable is how Henderson, while playing with a kind of noisy authority these days, seems to be trying to copy Gerrard's captaincy style. It's understandable, really: Gerrard has far more experience than Henderson, and it is probable that the younger man grew up watching his colleague on television.

However, seeing Henderson wedge himself into the captain's armband prompted the original question. Each football fan will probably come up with a different answer, but here are some thoughts.


Perhaps the most important quality a captain has to have in any sport is the respect of his team-mates. Without this, the role is pointless. The other ten men on the pitch have to want to defer to their captain.

How does a captain earn respect? One way is, like Gerrard at Liverpool or, formerly, Tony Adams at Arsenal and, in Italy, Franco Baresi at Milan and Giuseppe Bergomi at Inter, to spend so long excelling at a club that the effect is to become part of that club's image. However, all of these men were, up until Gerrard's signing for LA Galaxy, one-club men.

The era of the one-club man is almost over. The retired Ryan Giggs captained Manchester United on many occasions and never looked likely to leave the club, but perhaps the best modern example of the one-club colossus is John Terry, who, in spite of celebrating his 34th birthday last December, has played every game in the Premier League for Chelsea this season.

Feats like this earn the unquestioning respect of younger and impressionable team-mates, and help to imbue a captain with authority.


Lionel Messi was captain of Argentina in the 2014 World Cup. In many ways, Alejandro Sabella's naming of by far his most gifted player as leader was understandable; the Barcelona star was the team's icon as well as its leading goal threat.

The problem with this theory came on the pitch: Messi is a great footballer, possibly the greatest of all time, but he wasn't necessarily a great captain. Watching Argentina's journey to the World Cup final, as Messi struggled for his usual excellent form, it became clear that Javier Mascherano, once a Liverpool team-mate of Gerrard, was the main organizer on the pitch, allowing Messi to focus on his own game.

It seemed Messi was attempting to lead by example, however the experiment arguably put additional pressure on the little maestro when he needed protection. Mascherano was equally indispensable to Argentina as they ground out results in the knockout stages of the World Cup. However, it showed that to be a great captain, as well as a great player, the man with the armband has to have 360-degree vision, and an ability to communicate clearly with the other men on the pitch.

If Henderson can develop his skills of listening and communication, as well as his undoubted box-to-box running and passing abilities, he may be another great Liverpool captain. Time will tell, but it is fascinating to see players grow into a leadership role.

picture courtesy of theguardian.com