The Curse of the Captain: A Blessing in Disguise?

Past and present England captains: could Rio's absence aid England?

Fabio Capello lamented the “curse of the captain” when he saw Rio Ferdinand limp out of training and out of the World Cup earlier this week, and on the surface he may be right to do so. An already disrupted build up to the World Cup in the England camp has now been thrown further off-balance and the reserved Italian has shown his first signs of frustration. But could this in fact be a blessing in disguise for England?

After all, while Rio is a vastly experienced international defender and – on his day – one of the better centre-halves in world football, there was certainly some doubt over whether he was really fit and in form enough to command his usual starting berth in the England side. Of course, that he would have started is not in doubt, but whether he really should have commanded selection ahead of the likes of Ledley King and Michael Dawson, who both had better seasons, was very much debateable.

And Rio’s status as captain was something I never really agreed with anyway. While a fine player, I’ve never seen him as true captain material, he’s not the sort of ‘leader of men’ type that defensive partner John Terry is, nor is he the sort of player to inspire his teammates with outstanding displays of passion, a la Roy Keane. However, his successor – and England’s third captain in about six months – may just be that sort of captain, and may just give Capello a little more than Ferdinand did.

There are suggestions that Capello had reservations over Gerrard’s ability to lead the side because of his reserved off the field character, and while a big presence in the dressing room can be useful, I don’t see it as essential. Gerrard has been a phenomenal player and captain for Liverpool for many years now, and his talent and ability will certainly command the respect of his teammates in the dressing room. What’s more, as he has shown time and time again while carrying Liverpool for much of Rafa Benitez’s reign, he is a player who thrives on responsibility.

Many, myself included, have criticised him in the past for not recreating his incredible performances in domestic football on the international stage, but perhaps this could be the catalyst for Gerrard to finally fulfill his potential in an England shirt. Charged with leading his country into battle, Gerrard may finally be able translate the furious drive and passion that he displays in the red of Liverpool into his performances for the white of England, and if that happens it will be very good news indeed for Capello.

Because Gerrard, like Ferdinand, has had a forgettable season. Liverpool struggled massively as he and Fernando Torres struggled with injury but even when fit Gerrard was unable to be quite so effective as he usually is, and often showed signs of frustration with the management of his beloved club. Perhaps the news that Benitez has finally been dismissed will further lighten his heart and liberate his play, allowing him to recapture his best form.

That would be fantastic news for England fans. I’ve said many times in the build up to this World Cup that our hopes rest entirely on Wayne Rooney having a phenomenal tournament, and I stand by that, but Steven Gerrard in top form would be a massive boost. He is absolutely capable of winning matches on his own, even at this level, and his all action style would definitely inspire his team mates and incite the sort of English spirit that we will need to harness to clinch an unlikely victory.

Of course, all of this is hypothetical. Gerrard may not be inspired by the armband he will wear, and he may again fail to produce his best football at a major tournament. And even if he does perform, there are still downsides to Ferdinand’s absence. One is that it seems likely that Ledley King will be forced to step into the breach, and I remain unconvinced about his ability to partner John Terry. Both are what I call ‘hoof it’ defenders, in that they are great at winning the ball, but not so good at using it effectively.

The partnership of Ferdinand and Terry was nicely balanced, both top class players, but while Terry is more of a simple ball winner, Ferdinand is more reliable in bringing the ball out from defence, turning defence into attack as it were. And to be fair, there isn’t really another English defender in South Africa who can fulfill that role. Michael Dawson would be closest, but given as he didn’t make the initial 23 and is there as Ferdinand’s replacement, it seems unlikely that Capello will use him. The best replacement would be Phil Jagielka… but he’s on his jollies, curse that eh Fabio?

So the loss of Ferdinand will definitely affect England negatively. While his form and fitness were in doubt there is little contest that on his day Ferdinand is one of England’s best defenders and a backbone of the current squad. Such a player will always be missed and given the frailty of his replacements, he will be even more so. However, Capello must hope that his enforced change of captaincy may also bring out the best in Gerrard, a player who could be far more crucial to England’s chances that a fit Ferdinand would be, and so the “curse of the captain” could, just maybe, turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

Have your say:

Do you think England will miss Ferdinand? Will Gerrard step up a level as a result of being captain? Who should partner John Terry? Let me know your thoughts with a comment below…


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