FOOTBALL does many things to our emotions, but it very rarely makes us laugh out loud.
Prior to a couple of weeks ago, the last time I remember actually belly laughing in reference to Liverpool was when we demolished Arsenal at home under Brendan Rodgers and, as the fifth goal went in, the whole ground seemed to fall about in fits.
I wasn’t part of a crowd the next time I laughed, and there probably weren’t even that many others laughing at the same time, but when Jürgen Klopp decided to name Simon Mignolet as the team’s captain against West Ham I genuinely chuckled to myself as I thought of the heads of my mates and millions of other fans around the world completely falling off.
I could hardly wait to start sending messages to various Mignolet haters to rub in the fact that not only was our quiet Belgian not being dropped from the side and driven to the airport by one of the thousands of supporters who volunteered for that job after the Spurs game, but he was almost certainly now going to be our ‘keeper for the next 10 years as Kloppo deems him so important as to be next in line for the captaincy when Jordan Henderson and James Milner are missing.
The thought of it still makes me smile. I live around the corner from Klopp and like to think that despite us not having yet met during a dog walk, he read my column about Big Si a few weeks ago and thought he’d start a massive windup on the sly to get back at the “he’s absolutely shite” brigade.
Si The Mig.
Captain. Leader. Legend. pic.twitter.com/JsgzJvP1jM
— The Anfield Wrap (@TheAnfieldWrap) 4 November 2017
Aside from the amusement it gave me, though, there are loads of serious points that come up when it comes to Mignolet being made captain, not least the question of whether Klopp is at all bothered about who his third-choice captain should be on the rare occasions when Jordan and James aren’t around, or whether he just checks who’s got the most appearances and throws the armband in their direction.
I heard recently that a certain national team just picks the oldest player to be the captain to avoid any arguments about it, but I can’t find anything to substantiate that claim on Google so it could have just been a fact made up by a bloke in a pub. Even if it’s not true, I could see that being a good way forward to avoid any debates about leadership that just serve as a distraction to what’s actually happening on the pitch.
At the end of the day, we once had teams dressed in red that were so full of leaders that the armband barely made a difference. In my adult lifetime, I think immediately of Pepe Reina, Sami Hyypia, Jamie Carragher, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso and Steven Gerrard all knocking around in the same team, all doing their bit to keep everyone else in check and all leading the team in their own way.
Unfortunately these days, a bigger question than why Mignolet was ever made captain is exactly who should be captain if not him, especially when the first choice of the last two managers hardly has the universal approval of the worldwide fanbase.
I’ve heard shouts for Roberto Firmino to get the nod, but he’d hardly rank in the list of all-time leaders despite his never-ending work rate. The same could be said for Adam Lallana (when he’s fit and ready to play again), and the fact that no one would pick from our slim pickings of centre halves tells its own tale. In fact, there’s a strong argument that Mr Virgil van Dijk should be installed as the club captain the moment he eventually finds his way to a house near the beach in Formby.
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When I even consider the fact that Jürgen might not care who his captain is it makes me doubt my own thoughts. Surely a manager who puts so much emphasis on team spirit, leadership and togetherness values who he hands the armband to as a physical representation on the pitch of everything he holds dear? I can’t really bring myself to believe that he just doesn’t care who leads the side out.
Another explanation for Si being made captain is, of course, that Klopp thinks the added responsibility would bring out the best in his Belgian shot stopper, showing his confidence in him and backing him to the hilt when the tide of public opinion was very firmly moving against him again.
If that is the case, it would only demonstrate to me that after over two years, our charismatic leader still doesn’t appreciate fully the pressures that come with playing for and, especially, captaining a Liverpool side.
A player who seems to crumble fairly easily under pressure is not someone who I would bet on rising to the occasion by being given additional responsibility, but then again I’m not privy to the information that Jürgen has behind the scenes which, for whatever reason, led to Simon being made captain in the first place.
It comes to something when it makes more sense to me that the player picked by our manager as the captain of Liverpool was because of a windup rather than it being because he’s the best leader or has the potential to become the best.
If Jürgen came out in his next book and declared that making Mignolet captain was worth it so that he could sit back and watch the controversy stack up and the dollars roll in, I’d actually be more comforted than if I found out that he genuinely considers him to be next in line for whatever we think is captain material.
Either way, whether or not it is important is difficult to quantify. Many fans might still question Henderson’s position as club captain, but those who have played with and managed him throughout the years all hail him as a fantastic leader and influence in the dressing room. It all comes back to the general question of what we expect from our captain.
The dream is to have a vocal superstar with an untold amount of ability leading the side, but the reality is that every team will usually have to compromise. Even Gerrard was criticised for being relatively quiet on the pitch despite being such a leader by example.
Regardless of anything else, I’d quite like us to reach a stage fairly soon where it’s not so difficult to pick a natural captain of the side and, if it is, it’s because we’re blessed with numerous options rather than scraping the barrel, appointing people because of their number of appearances or windup potential rather than their actual ability to captain a team.
Until we reach that point, though, I’m quite happy for Big Si to keep the armband if it keeps winding everyone up.