Their duties: lead, encourage, be the voice, always be listening. They are: superstars, experienced players, goal-scorers, midfield strategists, defensive specialists, goalkeepers. With their choice of captain, the 24 participants of EURO 2016 in France show clear patterns.
As well as the stars of the show, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who the coaches are only too happy to trust in the leading role, defensive players also come quite high up in the list. World champions Germany look to their World Cup hero Bastian Schweinsteiger of Manchester United, but others are also keen to take charge. “I don’t need an armband or title, to fulfil my responsibility”, says Champions League winner Toni Kroos of Real Madrid.
Nevertheless, being leader in all regards is a very big duty. The most prominent representative of this guild is the three-time World footballer of the Year, Ronaldo. The Portugal team places high hopes on the 31-year-old Real Madrid star. In his 125 appearances for the EURO 2004 runners up, Ronaldo has scored 56 times, and should push his country to the knockout rounds after their group stage disappointment at the 2014 World Cup.
Of course, there are other big names of the footballing world that will wear the armband and carry the hopes of the fans on their shoulders. These include: Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga top goalscorer Robert Lewandowski, who will lead out Germany’s group opponents Poland, Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney with England, and the colourful Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Sweden’s loan striker.
The familiar captain of the Germany national team is returning to EUROs form after a long-term injury. Schweinsteiger, who led his team heroically to the World Cup title despite a few minor injuries, got 22 minutes of match practice in the recent 2-0 win against Hungary. The 31-year-old doesn’t believe he is quite ready to play 90 minutes in the EURO 2016 opening match in Lille on Sunday (21:00 CEST, live on ARD). However, coach Joachim Löw is aware of the important representatives in the team: “We have finally got an incredibly strong set of leaders in the team.”
World Goalkeeper of the Year Manuel Neuer of FC Bayern belongs to this group, and is one of the candidates for interim captain. Hosts and joint favourites France hold Hugo Lloris as their key leader. The 29-year-old, who plays for Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur, is the most experienced player in the squad of the 1984 and 2000 European champions, with 74 international appearances.
Veteran of the captains is also a goalkeeper. Italy’s iconic figure, Gianluigi Buffon of Juventus, is the oldest leader of any team, at the age of 38 years old. Above all, come experienced players into the fray as captain – 17 of the 24 captains have already reached the age of 30. The baby of the team leaders is the 25-year-old Eden Hazard (Chelsea), after Vincent Kompany missed out on a place in the squad through injury.
Nine of the captains are defenders, whilst seven play in midfield, and like Schweinsteiger, commonly take up a more defensive position. These are joined by five attackers and three goalkeepers. So generally it works out that a defender will be captain, just as long as there isn’t a world-class superstar in the fold.
Albania: Lorik Cana (32), FC Nantes, Defender
Austria: Christian Fuchs (30), Leicester City, Defender
Belgium: Eden Hazard (25), Chelsea, Attacker
Croatia: Darijo Srna (34), Shakhtar Donetsk, Defender
Czech Republic: Tomas Sivok (34), Bursaspor, Defender
England: Wayne Rooney (30), Manchester United, Attacker
France: Hugo Lloris (29), Tottenham Hotspur, Goalkeeper
Germany: Bastian Schweinsteiger (31), Manchester United, Midfielder
Hungary: Balazs Dzsudzsak (29), Bursaspor, Midfielder
Ireland: John O’Shea (35), Sunderland, Defender
Iceland: Aron Einar Gunnarsson (27), Cardiff City, Midfielder
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon (38), Juventus, Goalkeeper
Northern Ireland: Steven Davis (31), Southampton, Midfielder
Poland: Robert Lewandowski (27), Bayern Munich, Attacker
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo (31), Real Madrid, Attacker
Romania: Vlad Chiriches (26), SSC Napoli, Defender
Russia: Roman Schirokov (34), CSKA Moscow, Midfielder
Sweden: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (34), Paris St. Germain, Attacker
Switzerland: Stephan Lichtsteiner (32), Juventus, Defender
Slovakia: Martin Skrtel (31), Liverpool, Defender
Spain: Iker Casillas (35), FC Porto, Goalkeeper
Turkey: Arda Turan (29), Barcelona, Midfielder
Ukraine: Ruslan Rotan (34), Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, Midfielder
Wales: Ashley Williams (31), Swansea City, Defender