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Steven Gerrard and 20 Inspirational Captains in European Football

Karl MatchettFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2014

Steven Gerrard and 20 Inspirational Captains in European Football

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    Jon Super

    What's in the title of "captain"? Is it merely the armband on the pitch, or is it more?

    For some clubs or perhaps even entire leagues, a captain can be an on-pitch extension of the manager in the dugout, the man to remember and pass on tactical instruction at key moments in the match or advise his team-mates on what to do next.

    Others, however, see it as their place not merely to play their own game to the highest level possible but also raise the ability and confidence of those around them ever higher—to take the difficult, the improbable and even the impossible and overcome those obstacles.

    Some captains are the identifiable and memorable faces of the word "inspirational."

Steven Gerrard, Liverpool

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Liverpool and England skipper Steven Gerrard is perhaps living up to his captain's billing more now than ever before, as anyone who saw him at the weekend against Manchester City might agree.

    Leading by example? Absolutely. Gerrard has scored in every club cup final going, winning the lot along the way, including those famous rescue acts against AC Milan (2005) and West Ham United (2006). But he also has plenty of motivation in him for his team-mates.

    His rousing speech and call to arms on Sunday will live long in the memory of Liverpool supporters, especially if he does indeed go on to lead them to the Premier League title.

Gianluigi Buffon, Juventus

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    Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

    In terms of leading from the back, there aren't too many who can dispute the admirable longevity and quality provided by Gigi Buffon down the years.

    The Juventus goalkeeper has long been viewed as one of the best in world football for his agility, consistency and handling skills, but the other side to his game is equally important. Buffon organises, directs and cajoles those in front of him at club and country level.

    He is on the verge of another Serie A title with Juve and will also have hopes of going far at the World Cup this summer.

Carles Puyol, Barcelona

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    David Ramos/Getty Images

    Carles Puyol's time in the game might be almost up—at least at the highest level—due to injuries, but there is no doubting the huge impact he has had on his Barcelona team-mates down the years.

    The central defender is one of the few rough-and-tumble players in the Barca squad, though he's not lacking in the technique department by any means. However, his propensity to go thudding into aerial duels and ground challenges certainly rouses the crowd, while his constant barking of orders from the back line ensures his team-mates stay on their game too.

    Puyol hasn't featured much in league play this season, with Xavi often captaining the side, but he has been a great skipper down the years nonetheless.

Javier Zanetti, Inter Milan

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    Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Like Puyol before him, Javier Zanetti has seen his season decimated by injury this term, but the almost ceaseless service to Inter Milan before that has more than proven his worth as captain many times over.

    Not a ranter and raver but certainly able to command respect from team-mates and opponents alike, Zanetti's consummate professionalism and enduring ability on the field makes him a captain well worth playing for.

    Even past his 40th birthday he remains an important presence in the Inter dressing room.

John Terry, Chelsea

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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    Chelsea's John Terry is one of the foremost "prototypical" captains: in-your-face, constantly ordering those around him, argumentative, deliberate and determined in his playing style and as brave as anybody on the pitch.

    Some might not like him, but there is no doubting that Terry simply demands the very best from his team-mates, and when the going is against his team he still retains the capacity to lift others above their real level.

    He's won plenty in the game, but his hunger is still visibly enormous, something which seeps through to the rest of the team in big moments.

Francesco Totti, Roma

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    Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

    AS Roma skipper Francesco Totti has had a resurgent season, leading the line for his team and showing great ability to help his side to second place in Serie A.

    Along with his own general play, his appetite and vigour for the game remain as impressive as ever, thereby combining his own in-game intelligence with the greater mobility of those around him to forge impressive links in attack.

    Totti remains one of the biggest names in European football and an inspiring player to play alongside.

Igor Akinfeev, CSKA Moscow

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    EuroFootball/Getty Images

    Leadership and talent. Yes, Igor Akinfeev has them both.

    However, the CSKA Moscow goalkeeper inspires his players another way: He's had several opportunities to depart the club and the league in recent years yet continues to show loyalty and support to his side.

    The players around him respect him for his importance to the club over the longer term as well as his impact on the pitch.

Thiago Silva, Paris Saint-Germain

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    Harry Engels/Getty Images

    Paris Saint-Germain's team has undergone such a transformation over the past couple of years that it would take a big personality to lead the team of expensive players. That's what they get with Brazilian defender Thiago Silva.

    One of the leading centre-backs in the entire world, Silva combines consistency with great reading of the game, supporting his players further up the pitch and giving them the platform on which to shine.

    It won't be a surprise to see him lifting multiple titles with the French outfit over the coming years.

Ron Vlaar, Aston Villa

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    Stu Forster/Getty Images

    His club may not be one of the superpowers of modern-day European football, but he's an inspirational captain nonetheless.

    Ron Vlaar brings Aston Villa a steady and experienced mind and presence in defence, often alongside far younger players who have yet to accomplish too much in the game.

    Directing, cajoling and showing his own defensive traits as a marker to live up to are all methods in which he can be seen influencing his team-mates on any given weekend.

Iker Casillas, Real Madrid

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    Nobody is quite entirely sure why Iker Casillas still remains on the Real Madrid bench in league play, but there is little doubt over the Spaniard's inspirational value when playing in the Champions League or for his national team.

    Having won everything in the game, Casillas' mere presence on the pitch should be enough for most players to take heart that his team has at the very least a fighting chance, but Casillas' enduring reflexes and shot-stopping ability still make him one of the game's top keepers, too.

    Sure, he had a downturn in form a year ago, but he has played well when called upon this season. He could yet end the year lifting a Champions League trophy and the World Cup once again—not bad considering he's not the first-choice league keeper for his side.

Antonio Di Natale, Udinese

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    Dino Panato/Getty Images

    Udinese forward Antonio Di Natale continues to leave everything on the pitch in each match for his side.

    He inspires and leads those around him by showing them what can be done with constant effort and an attitude which refuses to accept defeat.

    Talented and a goalscoring hero he might be, but there are plenty of other reasons why his players follow him.

Philipp Lahm, Bayern Munich

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Bayern Munich's right-back leads his side because he embodies everything that the team is about: class on the ball, domination of play, tactical intelligence and winning the biggest prizes around.

    Without being a constant screamer, Lahm is still able to run and influence his side by intelligent positioning and directing play, especially with his recent transition into midfield on several occasions.

    Bayern are a big side with big expectations; they require a big man to lead them. He's perhaps diminutive in size, but Lahm is a footballing giant.

Scott Brown, Celtic

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    Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

    In direct contrast to the previous slide, Scott Brown leads his Celtic team by example and by force. It's not necessarily better or worse, just his own style which suits the team and the league.

    Brown can be counted on to thunder into a tackle if he needs to raise the crowd or his team-mates, show good positivity on the ball when his fellow players need encouragement or stand up for his side when he feels they have been unjustly treated.

    He's a man who will give everything for the shirt and demands that everyone else does the same.

Steve Mandanda, Marseille

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    Claude Paris

    Steve Mandanda is one of the foremost influential and impressive goalkeepers in Europe, with his excellent agility and handling being big reasons for his continued success with Marseille.

    Being able to see the play ahead of him, he reads the game well and directs his back line with insight, force and intelligence.

    A long-serving player for the club, he's extremely well-regarded throughout Ligue 1, and his team-mates respond in kind.

Sebastian Kehl, Borussia Dortmund

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    Handout/Getty Images

    Borussia Dortmund captain Sebastian Kehl might not be a fixture in the side every week, but his steadying influence on the pitch is apparent when asked to continue in his usual deep-midfield role.

    Excellent in his use of the ball and his ability to help dictate the tempo of a game, Kehl helps his team alternately dominate or wrest back control of a match, depending on their needs.

    He's another player who more often than not leads by his composure and aura rather than forceful direction.

Gabi, Atletico Madrid

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    Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

    Atletico Madrid’s Gabi plays an interesting tactical role in his team, fulfilling the actions and positions of a defensive midfielder and a link man at different times.

    His immense ability can mask the work he does off the ball: He’s constantly directing those around him, ensuring team-mates are in position at set plays and reacting well to second balls.

    Gabi's vital within the structure of his team, but his ability in defense and in the middle third of the pitch make him a particularly huge asset to the side. Put all of that together and you have a player team-mates will trust, work hard for and understand his proven worth as a winner.

Benedikt Howedes, Schalke

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    A rock-solid central defender, Howedes combines traits of some of the great aggressive defenders of the game with the ability to play out from the back with ease.

    He’s a vocal, easily identifiable figure who can be as forceful with his gesticulations and roars to team-mates as he can be with his tackles on opposition forwards.

    Schalke's recovery this season showcases a squad which has great belief and mental strength. Howedes embodies that to the extreme.

Luisao, Benfica

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    Kirsty Wigglesworth

    Benfica’s Brazilian central defender Luisao has shown everything you could want from a captain over the years: loyalty to the team, unfaltering and dedicated service, consistency in quality and real leadership on the pitch.

    Difficult to beat on the ground and almost impossible to best in the air, he’s a savvy and wily defender who knows how to wind up opponents and take the heat off his own team-mates if needed.

    He weighs in with a few important goals, too, another useful skill to make players look up to their captain.

Volkan Demirel, Fenerbahce

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    EuroFootball/Getty Images

    Not actually Fenerbahce’s club captain, Volkan Demirel nonetheless skippers the side regularly and brings equal parts ferocity and ability to the role.

    He’s a talented and experienced goalkeeper who has played for a dozen years on the Turkish top-flight club, won plenty of trophies and has fully displayed his emotions at times.

    Demirel is a committed winner, certainly, and a man who can be counted on to put the team’s interests first.

Darijo Srna, Shakhtar Donetsk

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    EuroFootball/Getty Images

    Croatian full-back Darijo Srna is a veteran of Shakhtar’s side, having earned the right to wear the captain’s armband by proving his quality over a number of seasons and growing in stature during that time.

    A confident and capable player on the ball and in his defensive duties, he’s a big asset at both ends of the pitch and has gained so much experience at club and country over the seasons that it’s impossible not to look up to his achievements.

    Follow @karlmatchett

     

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