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Do Club captains still matter? – A Week in the City



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Manchester City, in recent years, have had some great captains. Not just players who you could clearly see were great leaders on the pitch and within a dressing room, but players who you were happy to see represent the club.

Vincent Kompany was an adopted Manc by the time he left the club. Having joined Manchester City just before the money came in from Abu Dhabi, he was a shining example of how hard work and sheer determination, combined with model professionalism, could allow you to succeed in a rapidly changing environment. He undertook a Master’s Degree in Business Administration with the University of Manchester, further embedding himself in a City which had already become his second home, and also home to his wife and children. Probably the club’s greatest ever captain.

Then followed David Silva, never the most vocal type but somebody who was clearly incredibly well respected by his peers. Off the pitch, you heard little about his life in Manchester until the 2017/18 season when his son, Mateo, was born prematurely, during which time he still managed to produce some of the finest football of the finest career imaginable. His captaincy only lasted a single season, yet every Manchester City fan was over the (blue) moon to see him take centre stage for his swansong at the club.

Afterwards came Fernandinho, who took the armband from 2020 until 2022. A player who had famously waived a £4 million loyalty bonus at Shakhtar Donetsk to join Manchester City and had been a consummate professional throughout his time at the club. He was well-renowned as somebody who took the youngsters at the club under his wing and took new signings out for meals upon their arrival in Manchester, often inviting them round to his own home with his family. Another player who City fans were enamoured with, as a fan favourite took on the captaincy.

Then came Ilkay Gundogan, club captain for the treble winning season. Having joined the club at the same time as Pep Guardiola, he had been very much emblematic of the Catalan’s time at Manchester City, particularly with some serious big game appearances, most notably (prior to his captaincy) the final game of the 2021/22 season where he sealed the title against Aston Villa in Sergio Aguero-esque fashion. He had also taken an interest in the local community, as he launched a charity campaign during lockdown to help struggling cafes and restaurants in Manchester. Clearly doing things above and beyond the normal player when it came to the city. Just an all-round top bloke.

So who takes over the captaincy when he goes? Well, as is always the case at the start of each season, the players decide and vote for their choice, making up a “team of captains” which amounts to five players, with the player who receives the most votes being named the official club captain.

It felt like Kevin De Bruyne or Ruben Dias were inevitable choices, with both being very vocal on the pitch, as well as players who lead by example. Kev is also the current longest-serving member of the first team squad which can often be a part of players’ judgement, as it no doubt was with David Silva.

The vote took place after the opening game of the season, after the transfer window shut, and so Kyle Walker took on the armband for the opening of the season (one of the few things he’s been able to take on if his forward runs are anything to go by this season). Walker was part of the captaincy team the previous season so it was easy to assume this was just a stop-gap appointment.

However, as Kev confirmed earlier this week, this was no short-term measure and was actually a true reflection of the outcome of the players’ vote.

Let’s rewind to April 2020. Covid-19 has truly taken hold and we’re all in strict lockdown – proper one hour of exercise outside allowed per day stuff. The real dystopian lunacy that feels a bit ridiculous when you look back at it. However, rules were rules and we obeyed them. Unless, of course, you’re Kyle Walker, who went and had a big ol’ sex party with some big ol’ escorts (disclaimer: I do not know the size of the escorts).

Manchester City are forced to make a statement to the press to confirm they are launching an internal investigation and I don’t even have to use the word allegedly here because Walker himself came out and apologised for it, admitting his guilt. “I want to apologise to my family, friends, football club, supporters and the public for letting them down,” he explained. A few days later he went round to his sister’s gaff while he was sad and gave her a hug, something which also broke the Covid-19 guidelines at the time, but he’s a human being I suppose so we’ll let him off that one.

Fast-forward to March 2023, less than a year ago, and Kyle Walker is allegedly (though you can watch the video footage and make your own mind up) spotted with his chopper out in a bar in Wilmslow after allegedly (though you can watch the video footage and make your own mind up) necking with a woman who is absolutely not his wife and mother of his children.

He is defended by both Pep Guardiola and Gareth Southgate over his actions as he continues to play prominent roles in both the Manchester City and England squads while this is ongoing and after a short investigation, including conversations with all involved, the police decide there’s no grounds to press charges. However, this remains another instance of Kyle Walker’s questionable private life decisions earning himself, and by extension the club (as questions of his conduct are raised in press conferences during these episodes), some pretty negative PR.

So, what do we expect from club captains? Well, that’s an entirely personal viewpoint, however I think there are a some basic tenants which most football fans can agree on.

Firstly, they must lead the team on the pitch and be a good dressing room influence. This is probably the main area where Walker is strongest, as by all accounts he’s well liked amongst the players. A recent interview given to Amazon Prime with himself and Rico Lewis shows how much he’s respected and looked up to by some of the younger players in the squad, particularly the English contingency.

The players wouldn’t be voting for him if they weren’t happy with his influence as a leader, so a lovely tick in the dressing room influence/on-pitch leader box.

Secondly, I’d argue they need to represent the club. The captain is probably second to the manager in regards to how a club is viewed from the outside looking in. The type of person who is club captain, rightly or wrongly, represents how clubs can be viewed.

We all look at Manchester United and laugh at the idea that Bruno Fernandes can be club captain because he’s an absolute weapon when he’s on the pitch – and by weapon I mean like a set of nunchucks when you’ve actually got absolutely no idea how to use them, so for every swing of them you can either smack somebody over the head and knock them out cold or just smash your own cranium in and fracture your skull, causing yourself irreparable damage.

Representing a club doesn’t just count on the pitch, however. As funny as it is when Bruno Fernandes throws his arms up and lets his head drop the moment somebody turns the screw on United, he’s obviously somebody who they feel represents the excellence of United (I know, stop laughing) off the pitch. He’s the undisputed best player in the team and, annoyingly if his interviews are anything to go by, is actually quite sound when he’s nowhere near a blade of grass. Unfortunately, United have only found somebody who fits half the bill.

I would argue we’ve done the same when it comes to Walker, though we’ve gone the inverse direction. Somebody who’s been caught in (allegedly) multiple sex scandals in the last few years is not the man you need to be representing your club, particularly in a year where we’ve only just got Benjamin Mendy off the books. There’s little argument to be had when it comes to the excellence he’s represented on the pitch during his time at City, in fact there’s a very strong argument to be made that he’s the best Premier League right-back of all time, but so what? That’s a fat X in the club representation box for me.

The final consideration for a club captain, and this is probably where you’re either a bit of a traditionalist or a doomer, is that they need to be a role model.

This could just be borne of how absolutely spoilt we’ve been in the last decade. Just look at the list I outlined at the beginning – Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan. Most clubs would kill for just one of these in ten years, let along all four. However, we still live in a world where children grow up dreaming of being the captain of their club.

The media is littered with articles talking about how the actions of football players, particularly club captains, towards referees is ruining a generation of children who are growing up believing that getting in a referees face and letting him know that he’s a big silly billy and he’s made an incorrect decision is absolutely fine to do. I personally believe that this is absolutely true (thankfully I’m not a professional footballer or a role model in any capacity because my Twitter timeline is filled with abuse towards officials), so why should this not extend to further behaviour?

Sportsmanship on the pitch is all well and good and it’s probably the vast majority of what young fans see of their favourite players, although I received a fair bit of backlash on Twitter (I’m still not going to call it X) not long ago for having the opinion that, during the Club World Cup celebrations, Walker shouldn’t have booted off with Felipe Melo at a time where we were all basking in City’s brilliance, so he’s hardly flawless in the footballing arena when it comes to his behaviour. Apparently there are a lot of people who this didn’t bother, quite the opposite in fact, so maybe I’m the weird one here.

However, I simply have to bring it back to the (alleged) multiple sex scandals. That simply cannot be considered to be the behaviour of a role model.

Of course, there’s the doomer point of view which is that no footballers should be expected to be role models because they’re all flawed and why are parents not taking responsibility for their own kids etc. Well that’s not how life is. We all grow up with heroes, and most football fans’ heroes are either their club’s best player or club captain (this can often overlap). Another X in the role model box.

The captains are obviously selected from within the dressing room, which from a sporting point of view seems a perfectly reasonable thing. I don’t necessarily have any problem with the players choosing their own captains as a principle. However it’s fair to say that players aren’t considering two of my three (very subjective) points when picking their leadership team.

The players are only really fussed about who is either their mate or somebody who they genuinely look up to in the dressing room, and from a sporting point of view they’re totally correct to do so. Many fans would probably agree that this is all that matters nowadays and that captaincy has become a bit of a redundant role in recent years, however we’ve not yet slipped into a world where it’s utterly meaningless, in my opinion.

If the players want to pick their captain for the games, somebody who they look to on the pitch and leads them through matches despite not officially wearing the armband, great. Let them do it. The leadership team can do its job in the dressing room, so the vote won’t be totally meaningless.

However, when it comes to the representation of the club, the ambassadorial role which is objectively a factor when it comes to club captaincy, the club need to step in. How the “brand”, if you want to characterise it that way, of Manchester City is viewed across the world has to be a decision which isn’t just left up to 20-something blokes in a dressing room bubble.

If Kyle Walker’s won the vote then, honestly, one of the higher-ups at the club should be pointing to his rap sheet and saying, “Yeah, unlucky pal, not this time”.

Or maybe club captains really do mean nothing and I’m just ranting for no reason?

No. It’s the kids who are wrong.