Every team needs a leader, and some are luckier on that front that others. There have been some iconic captains in the years since the Premier League came into existence, players who’ve carried their team with captain’s performances, popped up with captain’s goals when they were needed most; captains fantastic.
Here are five of the best. Tell us who we missed on Twitter or in the comments below.
Appearances: 668 (+6)
Say the words ‘good old-fashioned English centre-half’ three times while looking in a mirror and Tony Adams will appear.
Adams became Arsenal captain at just 21 years old, and rode out well-documented struggles with alcohol to remain as captain until his retirement.
The one-club man captained Arsenal to title wins in three decades, the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. In total, he won the league four times, the FA Cup three times, the League Cup twice and the Cup Winners’ Cup. In that there were two Premiership-FA Cup doubles, and one League Cup-FA Cup double.
It’s also easy to forget that before The Invincibles, there were The Near-Invincibles of Arsenal’s 1990-91 First Division campaign, who won the title having lost just once all season.
His impact has been cultural too, his leadership so powerful that the Arsenal offside trap he marshalled turned up in the Full Monty, and, more seriously, he founded the Sporting Chance Clinic giving specialised support to sportspeople suffering from addiction.
Club: Manchester United
Appearances: 459 (+22)
One of Keane’s predecessors as Manchester United captain was the original Captain Marvel, Bryan Robson. A substantial pair of boots to fill in the centre of midfield, but fill them Keane did – joining from Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest as Robson’s star was fading.
As First Division gave way to Premier League, so did Robson give way to Keane – the Irishman was a British transfer record when he joined United, and Robson, who had found options limited by the arrival of Eric Cantona ahead of the 1992-93 season, was almost completely out of the team by the time he left in May 1994, following Keane’s arrival in the summer of 1993.
Keane became Sir Alex Ferguson’s embodiment on the pitch, more so than any of his other captains, Keane understood what his manager wanted and how to get that same level of commitment from the players around him.
Keane’s time at United brought seven league titles, four FA Cups and that famous Champions League win that night in Barcelona.
The Champions League campaign that year, 1999, summed up Keane. In fact, the semi-final and final summed up Keane – the dichotomy of the man. A yellow card in the semi-final second leg, a game against Juventus in Turin, saw Keane suspended for the final, should United get there. His team were two goals down when he was booked, and he hauled them to a three-two victory, scoring their first goal with a booming header from a corner. A captain’s goal.
“Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player”, said Ferguson of that performance.
Appearances: 639 (+26)
If Keane was Ferguson on the pitch, Terry is Mourinho’s star pupil.
John Terry somehow manages to thrive despite scandals – of which there have been many over the years – the nature of which would derail many other player’s form, or even whole careers.
He ends this season lifting the Premier League trophy for a fourth time, putting that winner’s medal alongside five FA Cups, three League Cups and a Champions League.
This season he played every minute of the league-winning campaign, a feat only matched by one other outfield player, Gary Pallister in 1992-93. Terry also became the Premiership’s top scoring defender of all time this term, with a career which now sits at 38 league goals.
Despite an undoubted return to his best this season, following several injury and distraction plagued years, we are left wondering what kind of force Terry could have been – for England as well as Chelsea – had he been able to keep himself in check, and not sabotaged his own international career.
But then, perhaps he feeds on it? Mourinho is famous for creating ‘common enemies’, the media, referees, opposition managers, they are all against them, and that’s when his players play at their best – Terry is not only no exception, he’s the archetype.
Appearances: 645 (+62)
What more could possibly be said about Steven Gerrard?
A legendary top flight career has drawn to a close, and thousands upon thousands of words have been written and uttered about the man.
Rather than add too many more eulogistic words to the pile, just use this time to ponder once more those two career-defining, trophy-winning performances.
One, in Istanbul in May 2005. 3-0 down to AC Milan. Gerrard scores Liverpool’s first and the tide turns.
Two, in Cardiff a year later. 2-0 down to West Ham. Gerrard scores the equaliser…twice. The second, to make it 3-3, the last shot of a man who had given his all. He might’ve been 35 yards out, but running wasn’t an option anymore, so might as well have a dig.
Now let’s see how Mr Liverpool fares in Los Angeles.
Club: Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United, West Ham United
Appearances: 291 (+54), 88 (+3), 139 (+13)
Captain: 2006-2009, 2010-2011, 2011-present
If some players are the personification of their club, others are just natural captains anywhere they go.
Kevin Nolan is unique on this list in that he has captained three club sides, and in the case of West Ham, he was club captain from the day he joined.
Nolan is a workrate player, like everyone on this list – but particularly fellow midfielders Keane and Gerrard – he’ll pick up his team and demand from them the level of devotion he himself puts in.
Relegated after a first season at Newcastle, he top scored in the Championship and was their player of the season as they were promoted at the first time of asking.
He also demonstrated his leadership off the field, becoming part of Andy Carroll’s bail conditions following an assault charge. Carroll needed a permanent residence – he was living out of a hotel – and Nolan took him in, mentoring him as much as fulfilling his legal obligations, and Carroll eventually followed Nolan to West Ham.
But if Nolan has someone to thank for his own career, it’s Big Sam Allardyce. Allardyce entrusted the Bolton captaincy to Nolan, and when he arrived at West Ham, in need of a captain and a man who could get teams promoted, it was Nolan he turned to.