Tuesday, 30 August 2011

What's in a Captaincy?

In his first contribution to The Boys from Up the Hill, Longliveclarkey examines the poisoned chalice that is the Oxford United captaincy. Is Jake Wright (or James Constable before him) suitable captain material? Is the selection of a captain of any significance or is it merely a token gesture? Does the weight of responsibility hinder the captain's performance?

One of the most contentious issues coming into the new season was the captain’s armband. Or rather, who it would belong to on the field. While Beano, our former captain, has a talismanic status at the club that lifts both the fans and the players when he comes on the field, and that obviously deserves recognition… he is, ultimately, just a striker.

We knew the captaincy would be moved from the early days of last season. The emergency loanee Paul Wotton was handed the armband during his time here, and Beano’s position in the starting eleven was sacrificed. Even when he came on, Wotton kept the armband, and it appeared that Beano would likely see his armband relinquished sooner or later. It also seemed clear that Wilder would only hand out the armband to somebody who would get a regular starting spot.

Now Jake Wright finds himself with the tough task of leading the team out week after week, but he himself is little better equipped for it. A talented defender, for sure, but not one blessed with great communicative skills (several mix-ups with the equally quiet Ryan Clarke attest to that) or one who appears to have used the job to boost his performances. Amongst his pace, composure and great tackling prowess, he remains uncertain, inconsistent in the air and a poor passer, almost literally in the shadow of dominant centre back partner Michael Duberry.
The question is: does it really matter? Duberry assumes leadership on the field anyway, and it won’t be long before midfield lynchpin Paul McLaren is back to full fitness as well. Wright’s unassuming presence matters a lot less when he has these types of players on the pitch to make up for it, and the defender can get back to doing what he does best. It’s just that he hasn’t been doing that for some time, and his status as captain may keep him in the team long past his welcome.

Not since his first injury last season has he looked the player he was for us in our promotion season. He has had an automatic spot in the team guaranteed for some time, and if he could back it up it wouldn’t be an issue. However, there are two hungry young centre backs snapping at his heels, and his lack of passing ability was really made obvious in the Aldershot match, in which he couldn’t connect defence and midfield, and constantly ignored the threatening presence of the lively Liam Davis alongside him. He looked as unassuming as ever, and not the sprightly character that fought for and deserved his place in the squad for some 6 months.

I have high hopes for both of the centre backs that currently look just to be giving back-up to our obvious first choice pairing, and it may do both Wright and whichever player is chosen some good to give Jake a rest, and them a chance in the side. If he starts fighting for his place again, I have no doubt we’ll soon see the lively sweeper-esque centre half that we all wish to see in him, but for now the captaincy may actually be holding him back as he has no competition for his spot in the team.

The issue of captaincy is therefore, to my mind, not an issue of the best leader on the pitch, who will assume their position anyway, but who is settled enough and confident enough to continually earn their spot in the team whether or not they face competition. There may be more important issues around, but the one of captaincy is a very interesting dilemma.

P.S. My first blog post about anything like this, or really ever! Hopefully it was well-written and an interesting read, I’m sure not everybody will agree, but hopefully it can provoke some good debate!


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