Vermaelen is our captain, but who is Arsenal’s real leader?


Over the last few years, the captaincy of Arsenal has changed too many times. Consistency of leadership, on and off the pitch, is so important in terms of building a team based on Arsene’s football-philosophy and tactical principles.

Arsene put all his hope and energy into Cesc as both the embodiment on the pitch of his cherished football-philosophy, and the captain of his team. Fabregas was brilliant at leading by example but most of us felt something was missing: he was not a naturally born leader and as a result he struggled with some vital aspects of leadership we were craving for.

Robin van Persie was a fantastic captain last season, however much it pains me to say it: the traitor was a leader rather than just a captain.

However, he is gone now and Thomas Vermaelen has been handed the captaincy. The season has only just started, but early signs indicate Vermaelen is more like a Fabregas sort of captain than a Robin van Persie sort of leader. Leadership is something which is very hard, if not impossible, to learn: you either have it or you don’t.

A good captain/leader:

  • Leads by example: not just with good personal performances, but also with high energy-levels/commitment, and a never-say-die attitude. He never spares himself, always gives everything and plays with his heart on his sleeve. He will also stand up for his players and let nobody be bullied by the opposition;
  • Is blessed with a high level of social-emotional intelligence: he understands what is going in the minds of other players, and is able to support them accordingly, on and off the pitch;
  • Is extravert: he is not a constant shouter, but he likes to talk to this fellow players and make himself known when things are not going right;
  • Is a great communicator with the crowd/fans, and an ambassador for the club. He understands what the fans want and are concerned about, and gives good interviews to the press, by always representing the club professionally and with real passion;
  • Is a great communicator, ‘liaison-manager’ between the players and management. He has got the respect of Wenger, the coaches and the players, and is able to translate messages, up and down, and down and up, effectively;
  • Is a team player/ team builder: he will regularly praise, on and off the pitch, contributions made by others and help the team in becoming a strong unit.
  • Is good tactically: he has a good overview of what is happening on the pitch and, by talking to his team players, can make minor adjustments to the way the team is playing.

Vermaelen works his socks and leads by example as no other, and we all love him for that, but I don’t see him talk or shout a lot to his fellow players during matches: he seems far too busy with his own job of keeping a tight defence. I find him quiet and more introvert than extravert on the pitch. Although less important, I also thinks he lacks a bit of charisma when talking to the press and his engagement with the fans could also improve a bit. Thomas is a great player: a total warrior, but I don’t think he is a great captain.

Many of us believe that Arsene does not care that much about who his captain should be. He appears to prefer leadership throughout the entire team. In that respect, things have changed dramatically over the last two years at Arsenal, mainly as a result of Arsene now buying far more experienced players who often also possess good leadership skills.

The likes of Mertesacker, Koscielny, Arteta, Cazorla and Podolski all have one or more leadership characteristics as per the list mentioned above. In many ways, this is a lot better than relying on a typical/classical single leader/captain.

However, gradually we are very likely to see a natural leader coming to the fore again, albeit a more democratic kind of leader – less hierarchical than during Van Persie’s short captaincy for Arsenal, as Wenger will want to continue with having leadership in all main areas of his team.

Time will tell would that will be. I have been really impressed with both Mertesacker and Cazorla, and I think they both tick most of the above mentioned characteristics. The German has the advantage of having the better command of English, and regardless whether Vermaelen will stay captain or not, I reckon the Big Fabulous German will soon be seen as our real/natural leader in the team.

Total Arsenal.

19 thoughts on “Vermaelen is our captain, but who is Arsenal’s real leader?

  • The verminator is more of a captain than any of our last 4 Gilberto Csec Gallas Persie

  • Hi TA,

    Unsurprisingly you have hit a nerve with me on this one.

    You have set out a text book set of prerequisites for a leader, and there is no arguing with that.

    I believe a good even a great leader arrives at that position almost by default. There are as you know different ‘types’ of employees, and by definition footballers, too. This is often caricaturised by using animal characteristics to define personalities; the fox, the lion, the owl etc etc. each having in built tendencies.

    It is an absolute must that a ‘leader’ inspires, motivates and enables others to perform to the best of their abilities and even to exceed them

    All that you would know from your own career path, so then using that as a template we need to ask ‘who in the current Arsenal team meets those ‘specifications?’

    The answer I am afraid is not clear. You see, in a group without formal structure, a natural leader will emerge as a consequence of others within that group bestowing the role of leader on one specific individual.

    At Arsenal, the ‘leader’ is often identified as being one and the same as the captain, but the captain is appointed by the manager often for reasons that have little to do with leadership and more to do with short term necessity of keeping people at the club, or massaging their ego.

    Who then, at the moment, would I consider as a natural leader (and not necessarily the appointed captain)?

    Well, in my opinion, there are 3 outstanding candidates, all of whom have different abilities.
    They are Koscielny, Mertesecker and Arteta.

    I have said more than enough for now, but leadership/captaincy can bring out the best in the person appointed to that role, as well as to the others in the team – but that is another subject.

    Sorry you asked me now? eh, TA. 🙂

  • Greetings TA. Fascinating post. Cant disagree with your detailed analysis of what a captain is. Looking back over the years ive supported the club i would say the captain is a prisoner of his envoirement. The greatest captain in my view was Tony Adams. The guy was a freak (hate to say it but John Terry is similar) in that at 20 years old he had no hesitation in telling Kenny Sansom to eff off or Dave Oleary to do one. (mind you, we would all enjoy telling oleary to do one hahaha).

    What chance did Cesc have?, captaining a bunch of kids more interested in playstation. What chance did Henry have? captaining kids and players inferior to him. Viera was a great captain for us, but he was surrounded by peers of such quality such as Denis, that in reality he didnt have to do much.

    Despite age, mentality, or quality of the player, Tony Adams could captain. He could lead a bunch of kids or top players at there peak. The guy was simply exceptional.

  • Gud sentiments bt whom do u think can possess all those qualities once,i believe experience is d best teacher n wid time he b at per.So far u only have one issue wid him?

  • Hi Pascal 🙂

    Yes experience is the best teacher but leadership is something that is hard if not impossible to teach. When you say ‘so far you have only one issue with him’: are you referring to Per Mertesacker? If so, I would say again he would be a good leader/captain for us. If you were referring to Thomas Vermaelen then I believe he misses quite a few characteristics of being an effective captain. Hope that helps and somehow answers your question! 🙂

  • Hi VCC, good to see you here. 🙂

    Arteta, in terms of personality, reminds a lot of Cesc, and that’s not just because he is Spanish 😆

    Arteta, has great vision and leads by example but I think he would prefer to just get on with the job and not have to lead a team as well. He appears quite quiet and introvert, but then again that might all change if and when he would get the armband. He is definitely a candidate for it, but I would prefer Per, Cazorla or Koz – the last two would have to improve their English though..

  • Hi Terry 🙂

    Yes, Tony Adams was a phenomenal leader: a naturally born one!! Such a shame he seems to struggle with expressing himself clearly off the pitch now 😦

    He needs to hire you to do the talking Terry! 🙂

  • Hi RA 🙂

    Once again, thanks for your in-depth comment earlier this afternoon.

    I agree with you that Koz, Arteta and Mertesacker all have potential of natural leadership. I reckon Koz needs to work on his English to be understood better but I rate him a lot, Arteta appears to be a bit of an introvert/specialist rather than a leader sort of type on the pitch, but Mertesacker is slowly but steadily growing in statue and if he keeps performing as he does at the moment, and combined with his leadership characteristics, I can see him quickly turning into the natural ‘Leader/Rock’ of the team: Big Per! 🙂

  • Fine post again Total. I like this Dictatorship where you do all the posts ! 😆
    I think Jack will be our Captain in the not too distant future and hold it for years to come.

    If not, I have a great Idea to make a Captain who will gain instant respect. Someone needs to walk in the changing room naked, with a couple of dozen Captains Arm bands wrapped around his todger, taking that there are no shirt lifters in the squad, no one is going to remove a single band and they will all follow this outrageous Captain !. Who is this Mystery someone ?, I dont know, but someone needs to have the balls to take out my plan………oh, and he probably needs a large todger aswell !. 😆

  • A very large todger as well – haha – 1tourettes you have found the solution of the leadership problem! 😆

    Hi GLiC, Jack is a good call for the future. He reminds me a bit Tony Adams, in terms of personality traits. Mmmmm…

  • Interesting Post Total, but I don’t agree with you about the Verminator. For me he ticks most of the boxes you outlined.

    I have seen him talking to his team mates a lot and encouraging/cajoling them. And he certainly leads by example with regard to effort and so on. The only one of your list that I feel he’s lagging behind on (possibly) is when he talks to the media. But he’s only just been made skipper and he’ll get better.

    My problem with Verm is that he is the best captain at Arsenal, but not necessarily in our top two central defenders… so what do you do with a captain who can’t get in the team?

    Anyway, I just think you’ve got a downer on him because he’s from Belgium. It’s some sort of Low Countries rivalry thing, isn’t it? 🙂

  • Hi Rocky,

    I love Vermaelen and could not fault him as a player (even though he is ‘een zuiderbuur’! 🙂 ).

    It is interesting that you have seen him talk to players a lot. I really have not, but will give it a closer look in the next few games. What worried me most recently was the second half against Montpellier: we fought like lions but we lacked organisation and were unable to regain control. I did not rate TV’s leadership skills on the night and I just don’t think he is the best man to be our captain.

    You are right about the problem of our captain not necessarily being the best CB at the moment: is Koz left out for the wrong reasons? (that would make a half-decent headline! 🙂 )

    Take care Rocky and thanks for visiting: very much appreciated. 🙂

  • You could certainly see your expertise in the paintings you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. Always go after your heart.

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