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.