Steven Gerrard and the Top 10 Captains in the EPL
Football is probably the sport where being the captain means the most. The leadership role is more defined, and the level of expectancy is higher of the player given the armband. They are expected to hold themselves to a higher standard, as well as shouldering more of the blame in defeat.
The Premier League has its share of good—and even great—captains, so it’s worth taking a look at the top 10 operating in the league today.
10. Brede Hangeland, Fulham
The Fulham and Norway captain is a reliable presence at Craven Cottage, turning in consistent performances every week, and becoming the leader of the team he joined from FC Copenhagen.
Hangeland was suspended for three games across November and December, in which the Cottagers only managed a solitary point. Upon his return, Fulham beat Newcastle 2-1, and Hangeland turned in a characteristically fine performance.
Recent reports have speculated he will leave Fulham after his contract expires at the end of this year, but he would be foolish to do so. He has found a club that needs him as much as he needs them, and is playing some of the best football of his life, despite recent results going against the team.
Expect to see a deal agreed between the two parties soon.
9. Fabricio Coloccini, Newcastle United
The mark of a good captain is when a team lacks leadership and drive in their absence.
Such has been the case for Newcastle this year, as Coloccini has been absent through both injury and suspension as the season progressed, and the Toon were simply awful at the back without him.
The injuries to both Steven and Ryan Taylor have exacerbated matters, obviously, but Coloccini’s presence lends an element of calm to the defence that comes with a player of his experience.
He is a vocal captain, marshaling his players into a unit, and demonstrating excellent positional awareness.
The team has still leaked goals, and Collocini has been at the cetntre of controversy following arguments with manager Alan Pardew, as well as reports linking him with a move away from St. James’ Park.
If he were to leave Newcastle in January, I’d put money on the team going down. That’s how important Coloccini is.
8. Ryan Shawcross, Stoke City
Recently signing a long-term contract at the Brittania Stadium, Shawcross committed the remainder of his twenties to Stoke City in a move that showed great loyalty—an essential requirement for a captain.
Shawcross had no shortage of interest from other clubs as Stoke rushed to get his new contract details agreed, but he is well suited to a team that is quietly building a very strong roster of players.
The captain’s performances have typified the ascent of Stoke over the last few years. Strong, resilient, and afraid of no one, Shawcross is dominant both within his team and when facing opposing players.
When scouting Shawcross in 2008, Steve Claridge opened his piece for The Guardian with these words:
"The first thing you notice about this boy is that he is a leader. Constantly talking and organising his colleagues and the situation around him, he demands the best from teammates."
Shawcross has lived up to that assessment throughout his career, and will continue to get better—as a player and a captain.
7. Kevin Nolan, West Ham United
When he arrived in London from Newcastle, Nolan was already a strong presence. He mentored Andy Carroll on Tyneside, and after the striker ran into some legal trouble, he lived with Nolan for a while.
Nolan played for Sam Allardyce at Bolton for nearly ten years, so it was inevitable that he would be given the armband at West Ham.
Just like Shawcross at Stoke, Nolan’s performances exemplify the team as a whole. He refuses to give up, never believes that his team can’t win every game, and scores goals at the most important time.
Nolan is a captain in the oldest sense, in that he acts as a go-between from manager to players. He is the voice of the manager on the pitch, and has a relationship with him based on trust and respect.
This translates to the younger players on the team, and develops a successful working attitude that ensures everyone believes in the club’s direction.
6. Phil Neville, Everton
After being forced out of Manchester United, Phil Neville set himself up on Merseyside with Everton, swiftly becoming the team’s most reliable player. He was made captain in 2007 and has never looked back.
On Boxing Day, Neville became one of a select group of players when he notched up his 500th Premier League game. He is a model professional, working hard to improve even after the recent knee surgery that cast doubts over his ability to remain playing at the highest level.
Manager David Moyes had nothing but praise for him when talking to The Daily Mail:
He continually works hard. He is in every morning at 8.30am, he doesn’t leave until late. The rehabilitation work he puts himself through — never at any stage does he complain.
He just continually pushed himself to try and get back. The biggest impact that it should have on everyone is the manner of what he has done.
5. William Gallas, Tottenham Hotspur
Although he is not as dominant of a force as he once was, William Gallas commands respect wherever he goes. He has been a consistent performer at Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs, captaining Tottenham to the quarterfinals of their first ever Champions League campaign in the 2010/11 season.
This season hasn’t always been kind to Gallas, and he has sometimes been let down by a decline in pace, but there’s no doubt that Spurs are a better side when he is on the field.
Spurs have conceded too many late goals this year, which as hampered their league standings. Gallas revealed (via The Independent) that Andre Villas-Boas held a meeting with players to address the situation, and there’s no doubt that Gallas will have formed a huge part of that meeting.
4. Vincent Kompany, Manchester City
Captain of both Manchester City and Belgium at 26, Kompany has achieved a lot in his career. At £6 million, there is an argument to be made that he is one of the best-value signings of all time, leading City to the league title, and cementing his position as one of the best defenders in the world.
Add to this a decisive goal in a Manchester derby game, and it’s easy to see why he is so adored.
His positional play is what sets him apart, which also provides a solid guide for the rest of the defence. Starting his career as a midfielder, Kompany has managed to retain the attacking instincts of a midfield player, and combined it with excellent defensive awareness.
As a captain, he leads by example. A complaint about Manchester City this year has been that they perhaps lack the burning desire to win that characterized their title-winning campaign, but the same cannot be said about Kompany.
3. Nemanja Vidic, Manchester United
If Kompany was one of the deciding factors in City winning the title last year, the loss of Vidic was the reason why United failed to do so.
Vidic has been immense as the captain of the United back four, resulting in a disciplined and effective unit. He times his challenges well, has excellent judgement in the air, and takes good angles when players attempt to get goal-side of him.
However, Vidic was sidelined with an ACL tear that has also caused him to miss part of this year’s campaign, resulting in an uncharacteristically leaky United defence. He returned to action in December and helped his team ensure only their fourth clean sheet of the year when they beat West Brom 2-0 at Old Trafford.
It’s not going to be an easy return for him, however, and his progression back to full fitness will be closely monitored over the next few months. At 31, he still has a few years of playing time left, but further injury at this stage would put that in jeopardy.
John Terry, Chelsea
It’s impossible to put aside Terry’s recent off-field controversies when judging his career, as they have been too big to ignore. The conviction of racial abuse cast a dark shadow over Terry’s Chelsea days, along with the revelation that he slept with former teammate Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend, despite being married himself.
A captain should lead by example, and if being a leader of the team meant as much to him as it should, Terry would have conducted himself in a more professional manner. The England captaincy was taken from him, effectively ending his career with the national side.
Judging him solely by his playing, however, reveals a footballer of immense talent who has been among the most consistent defenders of the last 20 years. He has suffered with injuries recently, and his return from knee surgery has not been as smooth as expected.
At his peak, he was a dominant defender and an inspiring leader. He was able to coax huge performances from his defence when it mattered most, and will be remembered as a Chelsea legend.
1. Steven Gerrard, Liverpool
If you had to pick any player in the league who was more than a player to their club, it would be Steven Gerrard and Liverpool.
Quite simply, Gerrard is Liverpool.
This is a player who refused to quit when his team was down 3-0 in the Champions League final, instead summoning the strength to force them back into the game, and eventually to victory. He has turned in monumental displays in a Liverpool shirt over the last 15 years, and is respected by everyone within the club.
He loves everything about Liverpool, and the pride he has in pulling on the shirt every week is reflected in his performances. Gerrard grew up as a Liverpool fan, which made all the difference when he was presented with offers to join other teams.
Instead, he chose to remain where his boyhood heroes played, staying through the hard times with the belief that things will surely change.
The loyalty he has shown the team is to be commended in these times of big-money signings and astronomical wages, and he knows the pain of the fans as well as they do.
Gerrard genuinely cares about every aspect of the club and city, and constantly strives to get the best out of himself, his teammates, his manager, and the fans.
It's this all-round dedication that makes him the best captain in the Premier League today.