In a few hours, two club legends face off as managers. Frank Lampard of Chelsea faces Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United. As managers, both have yet to prove themselves, but they have the top job and a whole season ahead to prove they deserve the job they have.
But while Ole readies to put his squad out at Theatre of Dreams, and ties his shoelaces, amongst several unanswered questions regarding unfinished transfer window business, one other question looms large. That of the United armband. Speaking in April, Ole sounded like an amateur, when he said,
“We’ll see who’s here for next season and I’ve got a couple of players in my head that could be captain,” he said.
“We’ve had Antonio, he’s going, we’ve had Ashley, we’ve had Paul, we’ve had David, Chris has been captain, so there are players here who can be captain on the pitch.
”We just need to decide who’s the club captain. Who’s going to be the voice in and around [the place].”
Past greats in the EPL era
Manchester United have always had great Captains in the past.
In the Premier League alone, they started strongly with the original Captain Marvel, Bryan Robson, who was the Club Captain, and Steve Bruce, the Team Captain.
These two were hardcore United players who would run through brick walls all day for the club.
After that, the enigma that was Eric Cantona stepped up to the plate, and led the team by example with his contagious self-belief. Eric brought the necessary confidence and swagger to the team, as he led “the kids” to a Domestic Double in 1996, and laid for the foundation for their European triumph a few years later.
Following Cantona’s abrupt and surprise retirement at the end of 1996/97 season, the ferociously competitive Roy Keane took over as skipper. The man continued the traditions of the club and probably did more than any other United captains when it comes to instilling the fear of God in the dressing room.
Keane may have been a tempestuous character, but as player and Captain, he held everyone to very high standards. People often talk about Fergie’s hair dryer treatment, but there was also Roy Maurice Keane Esq. always at the ready to administer a healthy of dosage of bollocking if anyone in the dressing room who either didn’t give everything for the jersey or simply failed to live up to the lofty standards at Man United.
Gary Neville was a different type of personality, and he brought a different brand of leadership to the table. He wasn’t necessarily as menacing and/or borderline feral as Keane, but Gary was no less combative on the pitch. Solid and dependable when marshalling the defence, Gary was all about calmness, stability, and quiet efficiency in getting the job done.
Next up was the Nemanja Vidić, the rugged, sturdy and indestructible Serbian. In his prime, Vidić was regarded as one of the best defenders in the world. The man was relentless, and many of his then adversaries probably still wet their pants at the memory of all their battles on the pitch.
Wayne Rooney was probably the last great United Captain in the modern era. He was probably not everyone’s cup of tea, and he may have had a problem or three during his time at United, to put it mildly.
Things fall apart after Fergie
Still, Rooney was all about bags of talent, outrageous skills, and insane work ethics. In the post-Fergie era, he would often grab a subpar United team – so often short on confidence, talent and stardust – by the scruff of the neck and drag them across the pitch.
And then something strange happened at Old Trafford.
In quick succession, they appointed Michael Carrick and Antonio Valencia as Captains. To be sure, United squad in the glorious David “The Chosen One” Moyes and Louis “The Dutch One” Van Gaal era was bereft any real talents or natural leaders. Still, the appointments of these two were hardly inspired and inspiring moves by the club.
And just when you think the club can’t do any worse in this department, they went ahead to appoint Ashley Young.
Of all players, they actually gave the Captaincy to Ashley Young, a player whose greatest skill is running around the pitch like a headless chicken and occasionally putting in very poor crosses into the opponent’s penalty box. Valencia was Captain when Ole made his remarks above, but he had not played for months.
Leavers as potential Captains?
Now, with Problematic Pogba still in the side, should he be captain when all summer he has been courting Madrid? And what about De Gea, another potential summer leaver who stayed? Furthermore, how effective can a goalkeeper captain be, when the defence in front of him and midfield are brittle?
It seems like United is hell bent on making the club a laughing stock, as a lot of things there are an endless supply of stand-up comedy materials.