With some very high profile Premier League captains departing their current clubs this summer, new club and team captains will be selected to lead their squad out on Matchday. However, what exactly is the role of the captain these days? Do they have some special responsibilities within the club or is it more of a symbolic role in the modern game?
Within the laws of the game, team captains take responsibility for the referee’s coin toss ahead of kick-off to for choice of ends and before penalty shootouts. Aside of the coin toss, the captains have no other direct responsibilities on the pitch according to the laws of football – there doesn’t even seem to be a requirement for the captain to lead their side out of the tunnel before the game commences.
Much of the captain’s role is ceremonial as they generally offer the opposing captain some kind of keepsake before kick-off and are the first to lift any trophy won by the team. Whilst the club captain is expected to lift the trophy first, many instances see the nominated captain for the game lifting silverware before anyone else if the usual captain is absent from the fixture (except John Terry…).
Referees will often use the captains as a point of relaying information instead of approaching the players in question. This is especially prevalent when tempers are flaring and the captains are encouraged to calm their teammates where possible – games have been stopped in the past with players being sent to their own ends whilst the referee reprimands the captains.
In the near future, Video Assistant Referees are likely to be introduced to football worldwide and it is anticipated that the captain will have some influence on the referee’s decision on whether or not to consult the VARs on controversial decisions. A challenge based system may be introduced akin to cricket and tennis but it is more likely that the referees will continue to disregard player challenges to their authority – even from the captains themselves.
It has also become apparent, more recently, that captains are generally appointed for their morale-boosting qualities. Many of the Premier League’s captains are the most senior or responsible players in the squads and you can frequently see them encouraging their team mates to give their best on the pitch – Wayne Rooney is a key example of a vocal leader but may go too far at times.
Finally, the modern captain often finds themselves ‘taking one for the team’. This activity has been rife since the late nineties when Roy Keane selflessly made a tactical foul that saw him suspended for the 1999 Champion’s League Final – Jordan Henderson has also been seen to do the same for Liverpool since his appointment, even going as far as to square up to the fearsome Diego Costa to protect his teammates.
So, in brief, the modern captain is required to partake in the coin toss but the role has developed into a calming, encouraging influence on the field that could be given additional responsibility moving forwards – there’s a lot of weight put on the captain’s shoulders and selection is important.
Are you listening, Antonio? Jose?