So who would you rate as a great footie captain at international level? Bobby Moore has to be up there as one of, if not the best of all time at least for England, I’d say. He had his feet of clay as a man but that just highlighted how striking and impressive he was as a leader of his team. He led by example on the field and was truly gentlemanly off the field. He once attended one of our Formula 3 celebrity races when I was at Cellnet. The night before the event he was in the bar at the Brands Hatch circuit hotel and introduced his wife and guests to each of the Cellnet people there, most of whom were in high spirits after a long day’s setting up. He had time for everybody, signed autographs till the last person’s request had been met, spent time with our MD who was pretty popped by that stage, came over at the end to wish us a successful event and turned up next day bright as a button for all the photo requests and interviews etc. He also did all this for no fee. He was too the best centre back I’ve ever seen on his day. That performance against Brazil in the 1970 World Cup was simply awesome.
So who else ranks up there on the international stage? Carlos Alberto and Beckenbauer, for sure. Baresi too. Brian Robson was a very gutsy performer who again led by example on the field, but perhaps not one of the truly great captains because success eluded him. Bremner – fiery and fierce but you sense his team mates would have walked over hot coals for him. Beckham, too self-absorbed I’d say but impressive in a number of ways. Cannavaro – one of the greats. I can’t remember who led France in 1998; they seemed to have a team of all the captains. Passarella for Argentina over Maradonna any day. There’s just something majestic almost about the great captains, a quiet dignity overlaying sublime playing skill and deep inner strength. Willie John Mc Bride had it in spades as a great Lions captain. An inate natural talent for leadership.
So where’s this leading? Bear with me. Today Ryan Giggs announced his retirement from international football. He also relinquishes the captain’s armband after his final game this week. I don’t think Giggs is a natural captain but he’s been one hell of a player and I’m sure I’ll write more about him at a later time. But he’s carried the role with grace since succeeding Gary Speed who I thought was very good captain for Wales. Perhaps their greatest ever was the gentle giant, John Charles. Probably the best player ever to come out of Wales. He was equally skilled as a commanding centre half and a brilliant centre forward. He is still revered in Turin where he played for Juva long before his compatriot Ian Rush blamed the fact that ‘it was like playing in a foreign country’ for his failure to make an impact in Serie A. JC scored 93 goals for Juve in 155 games. Phenomenal. Rush scored 7 whilst there.
I played against John Charles when I was at University at Aberystwyth in the 70’s. It was a charity match between the Uni first XI and a former international players XI. There were the Allchurch brothers, Cliff Jones and a few more recent players plus JC at centre forward. I’m an English guy but still had read of the exploits of this great player for Swansea, Leeds and Juve and I managed to get a switch to centre-half for the match only to play against him. He was 41-42 and still in good shape. But I was 21 and in my prime. I thought I’d give him a few nudges during the match and teach him that football is essentially a young man’s game. There was a free kick to their side about 5 minutes in. The ball was floated up to him in the area and I rose to head it away. Easy – the old guy will never get off the ground. Well he rose two feet above me, elbowed me in the head just enough for it to hurt like f*ck but not enough to draw significant blood, and guided the ball, with a beautifully cushioned header, into the path of one of his team mates to score inside the box. A truly lovely goal and I’m watching from the ground in a heap, head hurting in hands. He picks me up, dusts me off, smiles and asks if was I ok, I nodded, and then asked if that was the best I’d got. You welsh tw*at. He smiled again and just said let’s have a right old game. He kicked me to f*ck and I couldn’t get near him for about 30 minutes, till he tired then I started to get him. After an hour he was mine. We both knew it and shook hands and just played friendly style for the rest of the match. But I can honestly say it was the most physical and enjoyable game I’ve ever played. He was twice my age and he mullahed me for 30 -35 minutes. He must have been one awesome player in his prime. Gentle giant? Physically he wasn’t. He hurt. But afterwards he was first to the bar to buy ME a drink and told me how tough he’d found me to play against. Get outa here. He smiled and punched my shoulder. Then he had regaled us with tales from his career. Even his old buddies who must have heard these stories a thousand times were engrossed. He just commanded your attention. I was devastated to see him leave before the night was old. I had so many questions I wanted to ask him (everybody did) but it wasn’t just that; he had something about him that was just awesome and gentle. Giant giant summed him up perfectly.
So what is the point? Well today I also heard that the new captain of Wales, to replace the wonderful Giggsy, will be Craig Bellamy…………………..I’m just a bit speechless at the thought of JC’s legacy in the hands of that little pr*ck. I don’t know the guy at all, never met him, but everything I do see of him is just so unimpressive. As a footballer he’s good but as a man he’s just got that angry guy syndrome. If he’s not arguing with his manger, he’s allegedly beating up women in various Cardiff/Newcastle/wherever hotspots or laying into his team mates with golf clubs. And he demonstrates about as much sense of loyalty to his clubs as Nicholas Annelka in a huff. I’ve just got to assume that Toshack must feel it’s the best way to tame a wayward personality – give him responsibility. Maybe. But he shows absolutely no grace as a human being to me in anything that he does. Does anybody out there have a different opinion or knowledge that he is worthy of his national team’s captaincy? If so shout up guys. Don’t suppose there’ll be many female votes….
People say the role of captain is largely meaningless in football. I disagree. At international level particularly, the captain is a symbol for a team’s aspirations, and on rare occasions for a nation’s too. I hope Bellamy finds the spirit of JC, Speed, Gareth Edwards and the like. I’m just cynical though, so I’d like even more, even at the age of 54, to have 30 minutes of action with him. Better make it 5-a-side pitch to give me a chance to catch him.
Remember Craig, awesome and gentle not gruesome and mental.