5 greatest captains in football history

Franz Beckenbauer (right) is one of the best captains in the history of the game.
Franz Beckenbauer (right) is one of the best captains in the history of the game.

The role of a captain in football is often overlooked, as they do not possess as much decision-making power as that of a manager. However, a manager can only lay out tactics and formations outside the field; on the football pitch, those plans need to be executed and improvised by the captain.

That is where the leadership ability of players come in as they strive to lift their teammates, especially when the chips are down. At the top level, where teams are generally equally matched, it is the team with the superior mental drive and endurance who often emerges victorious.

A great captain need not be the most skilled player in the team, but he must have the ability to rally his troops. On that note, let's take a look at the five greatest captains in the game's history.

#5 Sir Bobby Charlton

Sir Bobby Charlton
Sir Bobby Charlton

Sir Bobby Charlton is one of the greatest players in the history of English football.

The living legend is a survivor of the Munich air crash in 1958, which claimed the lives of some of Manchester United and England's brightest young prospects. Sir Bobby subsequently led the famed Busby Babes to Manchester United's first European Cup, as United became the first club in England to win the prestigious title.

The Englishman played a massive role in the 1968 European Cup final as well, scoring two goals in extra time to help Manchester United beat European giants Benfica.

In an illustrious 17-year career with Manchester United, Sir Bobby Charlton has notched up a stellar 758 appearances for the club, scoring 249 goals.

After witnessing a terrible tragedy at the age of just 20, no one understands the value of the Manchester United crest more than Sir Bobby, who strived to represent the fallen heroes in every game he played. For the Manchester United faithful, the contributions of Sir Bobby Charlton at Old Trafford will remain second to none.

#4 Carles Puyol

Carles Puyol
Carles Puyol

Barcelona legend Carles Puyol was among a raft of world-class players who came through the La Masia academy, with the shaggy-haired Puyol standing out from the rest.

Puyol was a true one-club man, spending his entire professional career at Camp Nou. The Spaniard, who was appointed the captain of his boyhood club in 2004, led the club to unprecedented success during his tenure as captain.

The former Barcelona captain registered an awe-inspiring trophy haul. He won three Champions League, six La Liga, three UEFA SuperCup, two FIFA Club World Cup, and eight Supercopa de Espana, among various domestic and continental honours. All of Puyol's trophies at FC Barcelona came during his tenure as captain.

The likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta received all the plaudits for Barcelona's glorious run since the turn of the century. But one cannot ignore the massive role Puyol played in leading and marshalling the troops from the back.

#3 Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff
Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff is arguably the most extraordinary mind in the history of the beautiful game. He excelled both as a player and as a manager.

The Dutchman played a key role in revolutionising and modernising the game with his innovative tactics. Cruyff was handed the captain's armband at Ajax Amsterdam in the early 1970s, where he almost single-handedly propelled the team to the pinnacle of European football.

While he is one of the most talented players to have graced the sport, Cruyff was also widely regarded for his mental fortitude in inspiring and lifting an underperforming Ajax team to domestic and European glory.

Cruyff won the prestigious Ballon D'Or award on three occasions and transformed the average Dutch team into one of the powerhouses of world football. The Ajax and Barcelona legend was voted the European Player of the Century in 1991 by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.

The Dutchman was also the chief architect of Barcelona's famed La Masia academy, which has produced talents like Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol, to name a few. In over 500 appearances in club football, Johan Cruyff registered a mammoth tally of 260 goals and 136 assists.

#2 Roy Keane

Roy Keane
Roy Keane

Purely based on his leadership prowess, the indomitable Roy Keane is one of the greatest captains in the history of the sporting world.

While the Irishman was not the most talented player at Old Trafford, he exemplified the importance of mental endurance. Keane could outperform and outlast opponents, thanks to his tenacious and never-say-die spirit. The combative midfielder had the ability to spur his teammates to produce 100% on the pitch.

The now-49-year-old was one of the most aggressive and temperamental players in the game, tallying 11 career red cards. But Sir Alex Ferguson recognised Keane's ability as a leader and handed him the captain's armband in 1997 from the enigmatic Eric Cantona.

Keane followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, leading his team from the front in their magical treble-winning season in 1998-99. In his tenure as captain, the Irishman also won four Premier League titles and led Ireland's national team for eight years.

#1 Franz Beckenbauer

Franz Beckenbauer
Franz Beckenbauer

Franz 'Der Kaiser' Beckenbauer is one of the greatest players in the history of football. He is arguably the greatest leader in the game, winning every major title as captain of West Germany and Bayern Munich.

Beckenbauer led Bayern Munich to three consecutive Bundesliga titles between 1972 and 1974 and followed that up with three successive European Cups between 1974 and 1976.

The German can also be credited as the pioneer of the sweeper role, where Beckenbauer positioned himself in front of his centre-backs to stifle opposition attacks. He could play in virtually any position across the middle of the park and in defence, having played as a centre-back, defensive midfielder and central midfielder.

One of the prime examples of his defensive prowess came in West Germany's World Cup final clash against Johan Cruyff's Netherlands. Beckenbauer's man-marking skills trumped the brilliance of Cruyff as Germany won the 1974 FIFA World Cup.

In what was described as 'The Game of the Season', Beckenbauer played with a dislocated shoulder and his arm in a sling against Italy in a World Cup game, typifying his lion-hearted persona.

In his illustrious career, the Germany and Bayern Munich legend won five Bundesliga titles, three European Cups, four DFB-Pokal, one European Cup Winners Cup and one Intercontinental Cup.

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Edited by Bhargav
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