As the England World Cup squad was announced earlier this week, the country held their breath in anticipation to hear who would be named as captain for the tournament. Most were unsurprised when it was announced Harry Kane had been chosen. However, whilst I, too, was unsurprised, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Maybe as an England fan I have been spoilt in the past. Great players like John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard have all had the privilege of leading the country through successive tournaments. Kane, whilst having undeniable star quality, just doesn’t scream captain material to me.
A striker for a captain?
Perhaps I am a little biased, having always played as a centre back, but I think the best captains are largely those playing in defence. Highly vocal players who aren’t afraid to get stuck in and organise the squad would be my choice, every single time. Defenders have the benefit of being able to see the whole game unfold and focus on team play, rather than individual opportunities. Strikers, on the other hand, are mostly receiving the ball and running towards goal – rather than being able to see the whole field of play behind them. If the striker misses a chance, and the ball stays in play, having a defender as captain who can reorganise the shape of the team is beneficial.
In addition, I consider Kane to be a fairly selfish player, as most strikers are, who focuses on personal achievement rather than corralling the team and cultivating team spirit. His ego was revealed when he wrote to the FA to claim a goal, taking the credit away from his own team-mate, Eriksen. To me, that shows a complete lack of sportsmanship and proves he is too engrossed in individual ambition, to the detriment of his relationships with his team-mates.
Additionally, the pressure of the captaincy could negatively impact his performance – he should have just been left to score goals without the extra weight of leadership weighing heavy on his mind.
Chosen because he’s the star player?
In my opinion, there were players far more suited to the role. Gary Cahill, for a start. Not only does he have the experience of captaining Chelsea, he can command the team from the back. Cahill has worked alongside John Terry, who I believe is one of the best captains in England’s history, and eventually replaced him. Bryan Robson echoed this in 2017, when he said Cahill should take the role. He made the point that strikers are too far away from the action. Cahill might not have the star quality and goals that Kane offers, but that shouldn’t be the basis on which a captain is chosen.
Another contender who unjustly lost out is Jordan Henderson. He has captained Liverpool to their first Champions League final in years. Again, he might not be a big name in football outside of England, but he has shown repeatedly that he has the confidence, resolve and consistency to lead a team well. Unfortunately for Henderson, the fact he’s not a guaranteed starter like Kane probably harmed his chances when Southgate was choosing a captain, as Dier may get started ahead of him. In contrast, Kane will start every game.
At least both Cahill and Henderson have captained their respective clubs consistently. Despite being vice-captain for Tottenham, I still don’t think he has the required experience. In my view, that shows that the decision to make him England captain was based primarily on name, not experience and merit.
Disappointing, but not the end of the world
As displeased as I am, I suppose one positive is that there are plenty of leaders on the pitch, even if they aren’t wearing the armband. With Henderson playing in the Champion’s League at the weekend, rather than at the training camp, perhaps it’s a good thing he didn’t get the captaincy. Kane is there and can establish himself from the get-go.
At this point, many consider captaincy to be a novelty gesture anyway. A mere PR exercise whereby the FA appoint the most universally revered player to drum up support and maximise their marketing opportunities. Others suggest that rather than being an honour, being England captain is resigning yourself to be the scapegoat when England inevitably crash out before the quarter-finals. Given the absolute hammering Kane got by the press a month back for the goal claim debacle though, it’s fair to say he should be preparing himself for the same treatment when we draw with a small team, probably Panama. Given the way he has handled criticism in the past, this is a big worry for me.
Some may think my aversion to Kane being given the armband comes down to anti-Spurs bias. Not the case. He’s a great player, arguably our best. But when it comes to leadership? I don’t even think he’s in the top 2. He has been great in qualifiers and friendly matches but flopped in the Euros.
I don’t think there will ever be complete agreement from England fans when it comes to selecting a captain, because there’s just so much tribalism between rival fans. There is one thing I’m sure we can all agree on, though. At least it’s not Joe Hart.
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