Since the departure of Patrick Vieira, it has been clear that Arsene Wenger does not value the position of Captain particularly highly. Wenger himself substantiated this view as recently as a couple of weeks back:
“I don’t agree anymore when people say you need a leader on the football field. Football has evolved and it is so quick nowadays; there is less time available for one person to lead the team. You need more shared leadership on the pitch.”
However, results do not support Arsene’s philosophy. Think back, for example, to the last trophy Arsenal won – the winning penalty kick was taken by a certain Patrick Vieira. Think back even further, to the Unbeaten season – the final, clinching goal, was scored by a certain Patrick Vieira. The titanic Frenchman was never replaced, either as a midfielder of a skipper, and we are now suffering the consequences.
There are examples of successful sides where the position of captain is not of paramount importance. Take the Manchester United side who were English and European Champions last season. The armband was bounced between Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, and Rio Ferdinand, and I don’t really regard any of those three as ‘natural leaders’. However, United have a totemic tyrant as their figurehead in Alex Ferguson. He, from an off-field position, is the undoubted leader of the side.
Arsene desires the same kind of role. And for a time last season, he had it. When Cesc scored his winning goal in the San Siro, the players ran to celebrate with Arsene: their father-figure, mentor, and commanding officer.
Wenger is not a man who takes kindly to other influential figures impinging upon his control of first-team matters. Anyone who doubts that need only look at his failure to expand the coaching staff or replace David Dein. Perhaps by diluting the role of captain and assembling a squad without any obvious influential leaders, he felt he could build a team in his own image: one with a selfless, group ethos.
However, he had to give the armband to someone. And instead of the fiercely determined Gilberto, or the affable Toure, he chose Gallas. I think that decision will come to be regarded as the worst of Arsene’s time as Arsenal manager. Gallas has been a disgrace to the armband: his self-serving nature typified by the fact that yesterday’s outburst (from which more emerges today) was timed to coincide with the French release of his autobiography.
But Gallas’ failure is only in part his fault. Wenger took a massive gamble on him: let’s not forget this is a player who reportedly threatened to score an own goal if made to play for Chelsea again. Arsene had alternatives and chose Gallas – it is the manager’s responsibility.
With rumours that Gallas has quit as captain flying around, and even some suggestions that the players are voting for his replacement, I am not pacified. This is Arsene’s mess. HE should strip Gallas of the captaincy, HE should choose the replacement. There might not be obvious candidates, but there are certainly superior alternatives to Gallas: Fabregas and Clichy are two that spring to mind.
If the captaincy is changing hands, I doubt we’ll know anything about it until the teams emerge on to the pitch in Manchester tomorrow. If Gallas is first out of the tunnel, I will be very diappointed in the manager.