Abedi Pele. Tony Baffoe. Stephen Appiah of Step App fame. C K Akonnor… What do all these names have in common? They have at one point or another captained the Black Stars and done it with distinction. John Mensah next? If Nyaho Tamakloe has his way, Mensah will be installed as the permanent captain of the national team.
My first thought was how can you rely on a player whose health chart reads like a multi-page inventory list to be your captain?However, in Mensah’s case the crocky condition for his clubs has not necessarily translated to the national team. He has not missed many games for the national team so he must be given the benefit of the doubt.
The next thought was what qualities should one be looking for in a captain? After all, the captain dilemma is not peculiar to Ghana.
England and France have recently had their issues surrounding captaincy. Fabio Capello has re-installed John Terry as captain, a tacit admission that it was a mistake to remove him in the first place or truly believing that Terry has served his penance. Perhaps the knowledge that Wayne Bridge will probably never play for England again has given Capello room to make that decision. Of course, you can cue the thou shalt not leave your significant other around JT jokes.
France had their own leadership issue with Patrice Evra deemed persona non grata after being a central figure in the mutiny among players at the 2010 World Cup. A leader of men he was, but clearly in the wrong direction.
In any case, as with all teams, there needs to be a leader. There is no more clear example of this as with the Ivorian team in Accra this past week. Didier Drogba is the unquestioned leader of this team, ‘le grand chef’. His presence is palpable off the field as well as on it. Drogba’s two goals against Benin merely cemented his leadership resume. It reminds me of when Abedi Pele was captain. Some individuals just have it and sometimes the choice is that easy.
Listening to a BBC program two weekends ago shed some light on what other cultures look for in determining who should be a captain. South America football correspondent Tim Vickery shed light on the things people in South America particularly Brazil and Argentina look for. Vickery quickly dispelled any notion that the wearer of the ’10’ shirt automatically gets it. While Maradona might have made the number synonymous with captaincy, Vickery explained that in 1986, the choice was between Armando the great and erstwhile captain, Daniel Passarela. If previous practice was anything to go by the captain would naturally have been Passarella because he was the strong man. Passarella was tough, brash, no-nonsense and every player feared him according to Vickery. The coach at the time, Bilardo went against the grain and picked Maradona, a decision few can argue with now. Bilardo may have decided that it was better for his players to be in awe of their captain than to fear him.
Passarella’s take on captaincy in this interview is interesting. The players choose the captain he says. Vickery also pointed out that despite his enormous talent and influence, Pele was never captain.
There are lessons in each of the examples above. A captain must be someone peers are willing to follow. The consternation over Terry’s reinstatement suggests that there is a moral dimension to being captain which must certainly account for the ninth and tenth commandments. In other words, while no one expects footballers to be saints there are certain codes that they must follow and Terry broke that code.
In Evra’s example we understand that while a captain must stand up for his men, he must also be a voice of reason, a liaison between players and management – a skilled negotiator. Stephen Appiah was called on to do this a number of times in his tenure and he was often at the center of negotiations between the playing body and football administrators. Appiah may have been key in Ghana avoiding scenes similar to France at the recent World Cup.
Finally, in Diego Armando and Abedi Pele’s case, the ability to inspire through individual efforts of brilliance cannot be underestimated. There is nothing like a wow factor to keep players attentive to your words. In all of these examples however, the passion for the game is paramount.
This list is not exhaustive. I would happy to hear your criteria.