For the professional footballer, captaining your country is perhaps the greatest honour one can recieve. Not only does it send out a message that you are essentially the man responsible for the on-field hopes of a nation, but your leadership abilities, and determination, are being championed above all others. It truly is the pinnacle of a player's career, and to achieve success in such a role can be considered an absolute zenith.
For the England side however, the captain's armband appears to be somewhat of a grey area right now. Fabio Capello has recently thrown a spanner into the works by announcing that he is re-considering Rio Ferdinand's appointment, and has hinted that John Terry could handed the captaincy once again. With all the controversy surrounding Terry's original stint as captain, and taking into consideration the actions of some of his team-mates, the real question is - just who is fit to be England captain?
Blame the boss?
The confusion over the future of the armband can partly be attributed to Capello himself. After appointing Terry as his first captain upon taking over as England manager from Steve McLaren, the Italian was forced into a climbdown after details emerged of the Chelsea defender's affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend. But it was perhaps Capello's thought process after such an event that has landed him in the quandry he has to deal with now.
Though no-one is debating Rio Ferdinand's leadership qualities, Capello's inability to look to the long term has handed him yet more unwanted media attention. Yes, it is true that the Manchester United man is an inspiration, as well as being determined and a heck of a good defender to boot, his troubles with injuries in recent years should certainly have been considered. If you're going to appoint a captain, make sure it's a captain who's going to play the majority of games and be a major presence and influence on the team. Ferdinand's missed drugs test a number of years ago cannot count against him any more, but his lack of availability certainly should.
Of course, Capello's forward thinking has been questioned on a number of occasions before, namely his decision to take both Shaun Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon to the 2010 World Cup whilst leaving out the in-form Theo Walcott. Tempting Jamie Carragher out of international retirement, only to use him sparingly wasn't one of Capello's smartest moves, nor was declaring that youth was the key to success for England, days before picking the 33 year-old Kevin Davies for a friendly against Montenegro. Davies, in the process, became the eldest English debutant in 60 years.
Not too smart. But then, if Ferdinand's injuries were taken into consideration, and Terry was blacklisted, what other options did Capello have?
Ashley Cole is one of England's most-capped outfield players, and could well be considered one of the first names on the team-sheet these days. Excellent player - but captain material? Probably not. From messy divorces to newspaper allegations, incidents in nightclubs to the recent 'Riflegate' story, Cole is usually in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Brilliant player, but a liability with the armband, no doubt. If Capello ever fancied a spot of career suicide, appointing the Chelsea left-back captain would be a good starting point.
Frank Lampard, too, can most probably be struck off the list of potential candidates, though he has stepped in as of late to captain England when both Terry and Ferdinand have been unavailable. As fantastic a player as Lampard is, it is team selection that would make any permanent appointment of the midfielder irrelevant. Though he, like Ferdinand, has suffered his fair share of injuries as of late, Capello's preference to either play Gareth Barry or mix and match his starting XI's in the hope of finding something that can work has kept Lampard out of the frame so far. Jack Wilshere has been touted as an England captain of the future as a result of such an experiment, but he will have to wait a good five years before he realises his dream. The age-old argument courtesy of pub-dwelling naysayers that suggest Lampard cannot play in the same side as Steven Gerrard, too, will rule the Chelsea star out.
The likely lads
So what of Gerrard? And to that extent, Wayne Rooney? Again, both brilliant talents on the pitch, and in my mind, the two men who should be ahead of John Terry in the pecking order for the England captaincy. Forget Rooney's off-field misdemeanours for now. He is still learning. The striker is a precocious talent, unplayable when firing on all cylinders. Granted, he let himself down somewhat during the World Cup, but Rooney will most probably be spearheading the England frontline for at least the next decade. Do not let his hot-headedness faze you. The boy is all about passion. His contract demands at Manchester United are nothing new for the footballers of today. Rooney IS captain material.
So is Gerrard, perhaps more so than Rooney. If, by some sick accident, I had a major say in who the next England captain is going to be, the Liverpool captain would get my vote. A strong character, natural leader on the pitch, in the engine-room of the team. Perfect. True, his history with injuries is concerning, but Gerrard's box-to-box effectiveness should certainly see him be preferred to John Terry by Capello. The Italian only has to look at Liverpool's performances without their skipper to see just how big an influence Gerrard can have.
Elsewhere, England do not have too many options when it comes to captaincy. They are a side in transition - a number of younger players are attempting to establish themselves in the squad, the likes of Theo Walcott, Joe Hart, Adam Johnson and Jack Wilshere - all players who need someone to stand up and take the captain's armband, wear it as a model professional, and lead by example. So what sort of message does it send to these players if John Terry is handed the captaincy once again? Though those who attended Chelsea's game against Copenhagen in the Champions League in midweek may have chanted his name, and fully supported Capello's alleged thinking process, the long term ramifications of such a choice as Terry must be considered.
Yes, pencils have erasers, and Terry should not be continually lambasted for what he has done off the field, no matter how wrong. But for Fabio Capello to publicly ostracise the Chelsea defender for his actions, and strip him of the captaincy, only to go back on his word and probably welcome Terry back into the captaincy fold shows just where Capello's loyalties lie. Though he has been backed into corner somewhat with his lack of options for the armband, the aforementioned qualities of Gerrard and Rooney are more than sufficient to take away from this PR disaster that is threatening to once again distract fans of the English national team from what really matters - qualifying for the European Championships.
Up and coming players look to their elders as role models and inspirations on how to conduct themselves. They should certainly not be seeing the likes of John Terry having his past completely swept under the carpet. How England could do with Alan Shearer, Bobby Moore or David Beckham in their primes. Automatic choices for the armband. Leaders.
Capello will be gone in just over a year. Upon his appointment in 2008, there was a real sense of progress about England, at first. Three years on, he is in danger of leaving a legacy of failure behind. Who is fit to be England captain? The reality is, deep down - no-one. And that's a sorry tale.