Aleksandar Mitrovic was outmuscled by Aboubakar Kamara when deciding who would take the Fulham penalty against Huddersfield on Saturday, a dramatic flashpoint that raised many questions about the Fulham squad.
Although there was little Tom Cairney could have done about the penalty incident, Mitrovic’s magnanimous response and match-winning goal raised questions over who should assume the role of the captaincy in SW6.
Cairney is the longstanding Fulham captain, but during the Whites’ promotion season the true vocal presence in the squad was vice-captain Kevin McDonald, who assumed the role in Cairney’s injury absence.
A vital player in the centre of midfield and a key part of how Fulham play, Cairney is integral to Fulham — but he is far from the most authoritative and inspiring of leaders.
When Cairney was dropped to the bench against Wolves on Boxing Day, Mitrovic was handed the captain’s armband and rose to the occasion, dominating play and urging his teammates on at every opportunity.
And even when the Scot returned to the starting lineup and was captain against the Terriers, Mitrovic appeared to assume most of the captain duties, conferring with the referee, encouraging his teammates, and taking the high road in the penalty dispute.
The Serbian was the designated taker, but when it was clear Kamara would not give the ball up, Mitrovic kissed him on the head and wished the Frenchman luck before the spot-kick.
It was a remarkably cordial gesture after such disrespect, a move worthy of a true leader.
And true to form, Mitrovic bagged the winner in stoppage time minutes later, saving Fulham and even high-fiving Kamara in his celebrations.
Nonetheless, it would be cruel and unnecessarily divisive to strip Tom Cairney of the captaincy and hand it to Aleksandar Mitrovic. Yet the Serbian striker has shown impressive leadership qualities and captain material in recent weeks, even without the official title.