Does captaincy mean anything in modern football?

We love to fascinate over the importance of a captain. We analyse teams’ records with and without their regular armband wearer, we debate endlessly over who should lead a team out.

But, does it mean anything?

The honour behind captaining a side is evident for many players. A small elasticated arm band is purely symbolic, of course, but it is seen as a token of both respect and an individual achievement for the player. Reaching a standard in a club, or nation, where you can stride out at the front of the team and lead the side is clearly emotive for many.

In this sense, captaincy is inherently personal. It is about how that makes the captain themselves feel, although it is impossible to quantify the impact on their performances. In this manner, perhaps, it is egocentric. As a concept it is about ‘leading’ a team, a collaboration of football-playing individuals, but the underlying premise that it is about the honour of it suggests a deeper, individualistic motivation.

There are blurred lines between leadership and captaincy. Leadership does not need captaincy and, increasingly so, captaincy does not need leadership. Occasional quips to the press, calming waters with the officials and wandering out with a mascot each week, captains of top level football teams are akin to a head of state rather than the leader of a medieval army.

Leaders do not need an armband. Patrick Vieira was no less of a leader when Tony Adams was captain, nor was Patrice Evra any less of a leader when Nemanja Vidic wore the armband for Manchester United. Football teams need more than one on-field leader, the captaincy is a necessary, but trivial aside.

Unlike other sports, football’s captains do not make decisions to influence a game.

If captaincy did have any real permutations to a team’s performance, we would never see players allowed to wear the armband when they were retiring or reaching a landmark. The role has always been inflated, but, as it decreases further, the greater the insignificance of each debate becomes. Give anyone the armband, it will not stop the natural leaders in a squad.

Captaincy is not a negative, though. It is clearly influential to some people, but the continued overblown importance of the position is distracting from the more pertinent conversations we should be having about the game, whether that be affairs on or off the field.