In the summer departures of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, and Patrice Evra, Manchester United not only lost ¾ of a Champions League winning back line, they lost the three most suitable candidates for the captaincy. The absence of these three senior figures, in conjunction with the retirement of Ryan Giggs, has left the United squad dauntingly thin in terms of notable leadership experience.
The stalwarts have left, a new era begins, and a new captain must step forward. The captaincy is a role that cannot be overstated. The captain is the team’s focal point, its general, and its model. But what exactly makes a captain tick? What is the composition of a captain?
The first, and most important, quality of a captain is the ability to lead by example. Both on and off the pitch, the captain must be a model professional; the captain sets the bar, a bar that must be impeccably high.
The second quality of a captain is the ability to lead others. Leadership is intrinsic, it is seldom taught; a player that possesses the ability to lead is a unique breed. Leaders possess a charisma that makes people buy into what they’re preaching and mimic what they are doing.
A leader is always intelligent; they are bright enough to know what to say and wise enough to know when to say it. They must know when to put their arm around a player and when to deliver a stern warning. They are not only responsible for themselves, but for the entire team, so much like a manager, they must be able to manage the players.
Lastly, a leader must be respected. This is why the captain is often a more senior member of the squad, as without the respect of the players, no matter how good he is, the captain is unable to lead anyone.
Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie are the favorites for the captaincy, with the latter being Van Gaal’s choice for the Netherlands, however I don’t believe that either are suitable options. There is only one player in the squad who checks all of the aforementioned boxes, and that player is Juan Mata.
The example Rooney sets on the pitch is phenomenal, he covers a ludicrous amount of ground and possesses a contagiously high work rate, however the example he sets off the pitch is another story. Rooney’s rap sheet is endless, whether it is trying to force a move away from the club twice, smoking, or a host of other incidents, it is clear that he is not captain material. I don’t mean to slander Rooney’s name, he’s done extraordinarily well to recover from these incidents and has, for the most part, been a fantastic servant to the club. I only mean to emphasize that he is not of the mould required to lead a club like Manchester United.
Similarly, Robin van Persie does not possess a personality that is suited to the captaincy. A captain has to be someone that players look to in times of hardship, a person who people can rally around; last year, during United’s less than stellar campaign, Van Persie was in the papers complaining more than any other player. In contrast, Vidic wouldn’t even complain about Moyes after he had left United as, in his own words, “I am not going to speak about what has happened in my house. You have to understand the person I am. I am the captain. The captain has to be the captain. He has to respect the club”.
Nemanja Vidic was as close to the perfect captain as any club could ever wish for; if you compare the personalities of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, and Juan Mata to Vidic, Juan Mata is closest by a country mile.
The midfield maestro oozes class, that much was immediately apparent to United fans when he wrote a heartfelt letter thanking the Chelsea fans after his January transfer. In addition to that, Mata writes weekly blogs to the United fans in order to reach out and give them an inside look into his life. The fact that he takes time out of his busy schedule to write these in his second language says a lot about the man.
Unsurprisingly, Mata has never been involved in a controversy. To this date, the two-time Chelsea player of the year has not uttered a single negative word about Mourinho, even after the unjust treatment he received last season. Mata sets the example on and off the pitch; he is the model professional that the captaincy demands.
Even in his second language, Mata is more articulate during interviews than some English players; he displays the type of intelligence and poise that screams captain. He always has a smile on his face, is a consummate gentleman, and says all the right things.
Last season, even though Mata had only been at the club a short time, he would consistently urge to the press that United would turn it around; he was upbeat, positive, determined, and never forgot to thank the fans for their support. Like Vidic (and unlike RVP), he is a seasoned professional in front of the press. He is the type of player that would never even think of complaining to the press because he understands his responsibility to the rest of the team. Since his arrival in Manchester, Mata has displayed the type of charisma and professionalism that shows he is a leader.
Finally, Mata’s demeanor and incredible ability mean that he wouldn’t have any trouble earning the respect of his teammates should he be appointed captain.
Mata is the perfect choice and the only candidate with the professionalism, class, and charisma required to lead Manchester United.
Consider this – United have an impressive batch of youngsters coming through the ranks, who would you rather they looked up to and followed: Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, or Juan Mata?
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