Through effort, responsibility and communication, the team leader always has to be an example for his teammates.

It is said that Tottenham is considering withdrawing Hugo Lloris‘ captaincy after the French goalkeeper was arrested for failing a blood alcohol test. According to the British press, the goalkeeper may have to hand the armband over to Harry Kane, who’s always proved himself spotless on and off the pitch. Lloris would suffer the same fate as John Terry in the England squad when Fabio Capello retired his captaincy after finding out that Chelsea‘s defender had had an extramarital relationship with Wayne Bridge‘s girlfriend.

Cases like these show the importance of choosing a leader in the dressing room. A captain has to meet certain requirements if he or she is to do justice to the role and its authority. According to Benito Montalvo, sports director of the Junior Program at Marcet’s High-Performance Academy, the most important thing to take into account is that the chosen captain brings team spirit to the table. “The captain has to set a good example for his teammates, show a positive attitude, effort and responsibility in the face of the different situations that a match can bring.”

“the CAPTAIN MUST share the coach’s philosophy BUT HE doesn’t HAVE to be the best player on the team”

It is, to some extent, about knowing how to communicate. “With teammates, rivals, referees… The captain stands up for the team and gives a good image, especially in the highest categories, where football is very mediated,” says Montalvo. “It’s also important that the leader shares the coach’s tactical philosophy and transmits it to the rest of the team, however that doesn’t necessarily mean that the captain has to be the best player on the team.”

Mascherano entrega el brazalete a Messi durante un partido de la Selección argentina.
Mascherano give Messi the captain armband in a match of the Argentinian National Team.

This idea is shared by coach Nicolò Cavalieri: “Technical skills do not always coincide with relational competencies, the most outstanding player on a team may not possess the right mindset to manage the responsibilities that the role of captain entails.” For that reason, many Argentines did not share the Albiceleste’s executives’ decision to award Lionel Messi the armband over Javier Mascherano.

“Lionel was given the captaincy for what he represents worldwide, but also to motivate him and his presence in the national team, where his performance has often been put into question,” explains Montalvo, who developed his sports career in teams such as Central and Instituto de Córdoba. “The idea was to give Messi more stimulus, but it’s undeniable that Mascherano is a perfect representative of what Argentine football philosophy is.”

Grassroots football

Stepping away from the media and its stars, the process of choosing a captain will often follow other rules. In grassroots football, many coaches will prefer that more than one player has the opportunity to wear the armband, as a reward for effort or as a motivation. In some cases, a rotation is set among all team members. “What I can’t understand or get behind is that the captain is chosen at random,” says Montalvo. “The choice of which is very important and it affects the future of the whole squad.”

According to Marcet’s sports director, for the younger kids, the normal thing is that the captain is the player who communicates most with both his or her teammates and the coach. “The coach then begins to give that player more responsibilities in the dressing room like, for example, in the management of training equipment. Whoever wears the armband must be the first to offer to help those responsible for the group. This sets an example and ends up being transmitted to all the others.”

Sorteo de campo con los capitanes del Marcet A y del Espanyol.
Marcet A y and Espanyol’s captains before a match of the Marcet Memorial.

The ability to communicate during a game is also important. “That’s why a goalkeeper captain is almost always a good idea,” explains Montalvo. “They have the best viewing angle of the game, and because they have a less accelerated approach to the game and experience on the field, they can communicate more effectively with both referees and rivals; a more objective view of what happens on the pitch. Having said that, not all goalkeepers have a personality best suited to wearing the armband.”.

“IT’s important that THE TEAM LEADER knows how to GUIDE AND encourage HIS COMPANIONS to improve”

From the coach’s perspective, Cavalieri points out that there are three aspects that a coach has to take into account when choosing his captain. First of all, motivation. “A leader needs to know what the team’s objectives are and should set a good example in terms of punctuality and effort in each training.” It is also important that the captain is responsible and knows how to guide his or her companions: “The captain has to know the consequences of his words, and how to share them effectively. He has toencourage teammates to improve, diversifying his reactions according to the character of each companion.”

Finally, Cavalieri also talks about the “perception of competence”. If a leader is also a good player, his good technical and tactical level is always a plus, because the rest of the group perceives his abilities as an “added value”. Everything adds up to the moment of generating confidence. His teammates have to feel represented by him. “But that does not mean that they have to choose,” says Montalvo. “The last word in the election of the captain is always the coach because it is he or she who is ultimately in charge of the team and knows where to direct it.”

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