Is a strong captain important in modern football?
Leaders and motivators are tasked with picking up and dusting off their teams. Captaining a football club was once a pivotal position that seems to have lost its significance. The position remains important; contemporary players don't put in the effort required to fill the role. Football repeatedly teaches us poor leadership's detrimental to winning silverware. It's a painful lesson too few clubs and national teams take to heart.
Look at Argentina and Lionel Messi. Should being the world's best player automatically qualify someone to be captain? I don't think so. Argentina's struggles under Messi back me up. In 2014, Argentina reached the World Cup final. In 2015 and 2016, La Albiceleste made the finals in the Copa America and Copa America Centenario. All three matches remained scoreless through 90 minutes. The World Cup swung on Mario Gotze's 113th-minute strike. The Copas went to penalties. Argentina came away losers every time. Throughout these defensive standoffs, defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano picked up and dusted off his teammates. The world's most dangerous attacking player disappeared. One can't help but think Argentina could've done with a Frank Lampard or Steven Gerard.
After losing a third consecutive final, a frustrated Messi announced his resignation from the national team. Interim boss Edgardo Bauza made his first priority a trip to Catalunya with hat in hand. He soon coaxed Messi back. The question remains whether a team's best served by a leader who quits in tough times? Captains need strength, not fragility of mind. In a time where motivation, encouragement and leadership were desperately needed, was sticking with Messi the answer? I don't think so.
Liverpool face the same issue for a different reason. Since Steven Gerrard left, the club hasn't found a suitable replacement. Current captain Jordan Henderson is, by all accounts from Anfield and Wembley, a decent leader. The problem is he isn't close to being the first name on the team sheet given manager Jurgen Klopp's plethora of midfield options. He makes few errors but his game's about caution. How does he fit in the heart of a swashbuckling team?
Last season, Liverpool tended to concede late goals even with Hondo on the pitch. Henderson leads quietly. When players become fatigued in the final quarter-hour, a loud, aggressive captain keeping them awake and on their toes is what's needed. This season, Klopp added Naby Keita and Fabinho to his crowded midfield. It's even harder to lead when on the bench.
Manchester United concede goals in clumps and late in matches, this term. Like his Merseyside rival, captain Antonio Valencia's a quiet figure often absent. He lacks the gravitas to marshal the team when its mentality begins to crumble. Roy Keane never allowed the process to start.
Too many a Premier League fan's distress, the captain who most embodies a Keane or a John Terry can only be found on the pitch regularly in Spain. Sergio Ramos is the player Real Madrid stars, even Cristiano Ronaldo when he was at the Bernabeu, look to in crisis. His leadership qualities are not to be overlooked. When Isco and Karim Benzema weren't fit after their winter holidays in 2017, it was Ramos who took them aside an told them to sort out their weight issues.
Countless videos can be found showing Ramos giving rousing team talks in the dressing room. He possesses the rare ability to motivate, to change the mindset and atmosphere in a discouraged clubhouse, to make his team forget its troubles and focus on winning. Vincent Kompany, when healthy, exudes a similar effect on his Manchester City teammates.
Strong captains are a dying breed in modern day football. One hopes leaders such as Sergio Ramos and Vincent Kompany can inspire the next generation to lead in the right manner, with full commitment, before passing on the mantle.