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How Much Does A Captain Influence A Club’s Title Chances?



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Arsenal have William Gallas, a player who agitated for a move away from Stamford Bridge on a contract dispute, was at Arsenal for only an year before he was made captain, has spent less time at Arsenal than most players at the club, is inspirational and temperamental, and has a habit of talking to the press (and criticises his teammates).

Liverpool have Steven Gerrard, a home-grown player, a leader on the pitch and off it, and most importantly, someone who commands the respect of the squad and manager.

Chelsea have John Terry, as home-grown a player as Chelsea are going to get, a leader and much respected by teammates and coaching staff.

Manchester United have Gary Neville, United boy for life and a capable leader. In his absence the standard-bearers have been Ryan Giggs (another home boy and well-respected) and Rio Ferdinand, the de facto captain, a leader on the pitch, a senior member of the squad and determined to see his career out at the club after having spent 5 years at Old Trafford.

Notice the difference?

Now the interesting thing here is the link between man-management in a business and man-management in a club. In both cases you have personality clashes, the drive to work as a team, egos, respect issues, people coming and leaving, leaders and star performers. In both cases, the owner / manager must know everything there is to know about the squad – (preparation can help but ultimately Benitez has a better understanding of Liverpool’s squad and capabilities than Scolari has of Chelsea’s) – Ferguson’s statement that the manager was the most important man at the club is spot on.

Similarly, if you are appointing leaders within your organisation, the man from within has a substantial advantage in terms of knowing his peers, of knowing how things work in the organisation and being in sync with the organisation’s mindset and philosophy. All else being equal, promoting from within is a more effective solution than promoting someone who is an outsider (relatively speaking).

In Gallas – and we said this last summer as well – Wenger made an outsider the leader when there was a suitable candidate within the club – Kolo Toure. Not selecting Silva or Lehmann was understandable – neither were expected to be long-term fixtures at Arsenal. Henry’s departure meant that Arsenal needed a fresh start, and as one of the senior members of the Gunners’ side (in terms of stature, experience and time spent at the club), Toure was the ideal person to take over the captaincy.

The one thing Toure lacked in comparison to Gallas was experience. And as I said last year, the decision was probably motivated by the desire to raise Billy’s game to a higher level by building the defence around him.

Whether it raised his game and saved Arsenal more points than he cost them is debatable and those who have followed Arsenal more closely than I have will be able to answer this better. The question I’m more interested in is – does the choice of captain influence a club’s form in any way and can it have enough of an impact to decide a closely-contested title race?

William Gallas - Arsenal captainGoing back to the comparison between businesses and clubs, as a leader Gallas faced several challenges. Some of those were impossible to cater for, such as the refereeing decisions that led to Arsenal’s exit from the Champions League. Others required a strong team spirit, mental fortitude from the players and a leader / manager who could drag his players kicking and screaming through the bad times so that they could come out the other end fighting.

As captain and leader, Gallas shoulders some responsibility for both Arsenal’s successes and failures. He bailed Arsenal out on several occasions with his defending and contributed with goals as well. On the other hand, he failed as a leader in gelling the squad together when they needed to play like a team and he failed in leading by example by complaining about the unfairness of Arsenal’s situation instead of fighting for Arsenal’s chances in the league while they still had the lead.

Could a different choice of captains have changed history? Not as much as getting refereeing decisions right (which see Everton qualify for the Champions League ahead of Liverpool) but in the context of the title race and how close it was right till the end, would a captain who was better at building team spirit and a more durable character under pressure than William Gallas have changed history for Arsenal and the Premier League?

Share your thoughts below on the impact Gallas had as Arsenal captain last season and on the broader question – can the choice of captain influence a title race?

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