Every team coming to Russia 2018 has a certified or chosen leader, one that is either on the field or tactically situated on the substitutes’ bench.
Richie Benaud in 1969 stated, “The real test of captaincy is the ability to inspire a team”. For Nigeria, that enviable task has been handed to Mikel Obi.
For the 32 countries, some of the captains that will be on show are iconic but there are also those who just lead by example. Lionel Messi of Argentina needs no introduction but onlookers at St. Petersburg Square would easily bypass Iceland’s Aron Gunnarsson.
The oldest at the Mundial will be the ultimate Pharaoh, Essam El-Hadary, 45; while five-time champions, Brazil, have named the youngest in Gabriel Jesus – who is only 21. In Russia, the average age of national captains will be 31.44 and the average number of caps won will be 91.16. Eight will be forwards, nine would be midfielders, and 10 will be defenders while goalkeepers will be five.
The Super Eagles situation
Over the years, the Nigeria national team has favoured goalkeepers and defenders as captains. Stephen Keshi was the main man in 1994, but it was Augustine Eguavoen and Peter Rufai who captained the side. In 1998, it was the turn of ‘Gentle Giant’, Uche Okechukwu while in 2002, Austin Okocha led the team. It became Joseph Yobo’s and Vincent Enyeama’s turns in 2010 and 2014 respectively. Going to Russia, Nigeria’s captain will be John Mikel Obi.
The choice of captain
Most teams favour the oldest or the most experienced, while some believe there is a talisman in the group that will be better leading. What do psychologists say about captains of team events? Chris Stankovich writes that “The reality is that coaches can’t be everywhere, all the time — and even if they were able to pull off those super-human feats, there still isn’t a substitute for athletes “policing themselves” through the guidance and leadership from fellow players, including team captains.”
A study by Michelle Nelson at the Edith Cowan University revealed: “The contribution of the sports team captain to the overall performance of the team is frequently underestimated in terms of their effect on and importance to the team. The captain’s attributes and expertise have the potential to enhance or obstruct the team and captain’s performance.”
In an interview published in the Guardian of London, Nigeria’s captain, Mikel Obi said, “The coach and myself, as captain, have tried to make these young players realise that we are a team, not individuals.”
“If you don’t want to play together, you are welcome to leave. It’s amazing now to go to camp. You can feel the good feelings.”
So the captain is both the bad and also the good cop, as occasions warrant. It has not been scientifically proven which on-field position makes the best captains. Since 1978, when the World Cup was hosted and won by Argentina, winning countries have chosen four defenders as captain; two have been goalkeepers; three have been midfielders and one, if we consider Diego Maradona [in 1986] to be a forward.
Which captain would be the most instrumental in Russia? More importantly, which captain will hoist the trophy, come July 15 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow?