What Makes a Great Captain?

In the next edition of our “Anatomy of a Successful Football Team” series, we look at what it takes to be a great captain.

Regardless of the talent possessed by the players on the pitch, and the tactical knowledge of the manager, every successful football team became who they were thanks to a great captain.

The player who leads from the front, and by example. They possess a never-say-die attitude, and a willingness to go that extra mile in pursuit of victory. When the odds are stacked against the team, they lift their teammates up and motivate them to keep going.

So, here’s what makes a great captain.

Attributes required to be a Great Captain

A great captain isn’t necessarily a great football player. They may lack certain attributes required to be considered even a good player.

But, what a great captain does have is something that cannot be taught. It’s a special something which drives their team on and that be the difference between success and failure.

So, while a great captain doesn’t necessarily need to be the most talented player on the pitch, they do require the following attributes.


Every great captain will keep going even when their team is on a hiding to nothing. They will run all over the pitch, challenge for every ball, and keep fighting no matter what.

High work-rate is required as an example to teammates. If the captain is willing to put themselves on the line for the duration of a match, other players will follow suit.

Lazy captains have a negative impact on the team, with that laziness rubbing off on other players and resulting in a team full of players not willing to run or chase after anything.


It goes without saying that a great captain must have strong leadership skills, but in more ways than just shouting orders on the pitch.

Great captains must inspire their teammates by being a role-model on and off the pitch. They must inspire, motivate, and set a fine example to others around them, especially younger players in the squad.

Players will lose respect for their captain if they are splashed all over tabloid newspapers with pictures of them drunk and fighting. So, a great captain must think about leading their team in everything they do.


A great captain must stay calm when everyone around them is losing their head.

In order to lead a team successfully, the captain must be able to make rational decisions at all times and never lose their mind. They need to be cool, calm, and collected, or at least appear that way.

A bit of fire in the belly, a willingness to fight for victory, and a warriors spirit are all required but anger, frustration, and a loss of control sends out the wrong message to teammates.


The captain is the player on the pitch who every one of their teammates will look to for inspiration. Therefore, the captain must be a confident and self-assured person who doesn’t drop their head when things get tough.

When the opposition score, the captain should be the one in the middle of the park waving their arms around and motivating their players to fight back. They are the ones who, despite being 2-0 down with five minutes left, still believe the team is good enough to fight back.

A captain low in confidence is not going to lift their players, with teammates likely to drop their heads because the person they look to has.


Communication is key on the pitch, especially if things are going wrong.

The captain is the main link between the manager and the players, and will be required to communicate with teammates throughout the match. They must be able to get their message across in a clear and concise manner, so that everything goes according to plan.

Positives of a Great Captain and Negatives of a Poor One.

For a team to be successful, every piece of the puzzle must be in place and a great captain helps prevent things falling apart.

They will keep their teammates motivated, prevent heads dropping when the team is losing a match, and ensure a never-say-die attitude remains.

If a captain lacks any of the required attributes, it has a negative knock-on effect. Teammates will lose confidence if the captain drops their head, they will get angry and frustrated if the captain does, they will lose their heads if the captain isn’t a calming influence, and they will become lazy if the captain drops their work-rate.

A great captain leads their team to glory by getting teammates to follow a fine example, whereas poor captains will lead to an unmotivated, unconfident, and lazy football team.

Two of the Best Captains of All-Time

Bryan Robson

The man known as “Captain Marvel” has already been mentioned in this series, but is back again as one of the greatest captains of all-time. In fact, I would even go as far to say that he is the greatest captain to ever step foot on a football pitch.

Robson captained Manchester United for twelve years, making him the longest serving captain in the clubs history, and led England sixty-five times.

The United he captained wasn’t a great team and the players needed guidance from a fantastic captain, which Robson was.

Not only did he possess every attribute required to be a great captain, with leadership, courage, and confidence, but he is also one of the most talented midfielders of all time.

Paolo Maldini

Another player who has appeared in this series already but, again, a player who is one of the greatest ever captains.

Nicknamed “Il Capitano”, Maldini led AC Milan for twelve years and Italy for eight. He had fine leadership qualities, unwavering loyalty, and was exceptionally self-assured.

His amazing talent on the pitch, with many considering him to be the greatest defender to ever play the game, meant that players wanted to follow him. He garnered respect and teammates put themselves on the line because he did.

Read more of the series

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