Becoming a Premier League-winning captain is no simple feat. In fact, it has been done by just 14 different players before and demands a very unique set of traits, requiring not only the quality to play for top flight champions but furthermore the mental strength to lead a whole dressing room to glory.
That said, those two aspects of Premier League-winning captaincy represent two very different skills. And while some players are blessed enough to inhibit both, others aren’t so lucky - actually, it’s often the least gifted player in the team who ends up wearing the armband.
With that in mind, GIVEMESPORT have ranked every Premier League-winning skipper to date purely on their footballing ability and just to ensure there’s no confusion over quite what that term means, consider it as simply as this - if all these lads were playing five a-side on a south London street corner after school, who’d be the biggest baller nutmegging everybody, and who’d be happy lumping it clear into Mr. Archibald’s garden?
Featuring three categories of “Hoof Ball”, “Could knock it about” and “Rolls Royce”, here’s every Premier League-winning captain to date ranked from worst to best on their natural footballing brilliance…
This section is dedicated to the captains who justified donning the armband through acts of aggression, physicality and commanding presence rather than leading by example with eloquent tricks and flicks on the ball. There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting it up and at’em, but these Premier League-winning skippers won’t be remembered for their technical flair.
14. Wes Morgan
A man in the right place at the right time. Having spent a decade at Nottingham Forest before controversially moving to Midlands rivals Leicester City, Wes Morgan was already 31 by the time the Foxes shocked the world to lift the Premier League title under Claudio Ranieri. As the bedrock of a team built around the chaos Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez caused on the counter-attack, Morgan’s job was pretty simple - keep the ball out of Leicester’s box as much as possible, ideally by hoofing it down the channels. The perfect skipper for a miraculous campaign, but by no means a footballing great.
13. Steve Bruce
Served as joint-skipper with Bryan Robson during Manchester United’s first two Premier League titles, before taking the armband full-time during the 1995/96 campaign. With a nose like that you’re never going to be doing step-overs playing just behind the striker and writer Ivan Ponting once described the centre-back as “an honest trier who made the absolute most of limited natural ability.” Brucey certainly did that and although he often demonstrated impressive composure in possession, he would be the first to admit he wasn’t being selected for technical ingenuity.
12. Nemanja Vidic
Nemanja Vidic - who captained United to the titles in 2010/11 and 2012/13 - was hardly suspect in possession, but the Serbian international was always something of a throwback to more rudimental eras of the centre-back trade, winning headers, blocking shots and making big tackles so that Rio Ferdinand could earn all the plaudits for impersonating a “continental” defender. If you need someone to put their head where it hurts, Vidic is the best man for the job. But if you’re looking for a defender to Cruyff turn their way through a high-press, the former United star would be pretty low down on the list.
11. Gary Cahill
Nowadays Gary Cahill marshals Crystal Palace’s backline by kicking or heading the ball as far away from the Eagles’ net as possible, but in his younger years he was pretty tidy in possession, particularly in front of goal where rifled volleys became a recurring feature of his play. He was reliable enough dribbling his way out of trouble or crisply passing along the backline, but by the time he served as Chelsea’s de facto captain under Antonio Conte in 2016/17, his role in the three-man defence was very much limited to keeping things as simple as possible and letting the likes of David Luiz and Cesar Azpilicueta work the ball into midfield instead. Capable of technical brilliance on his day but still a little short of the required standard to make our next category.
Could knock it about
Named after the idiom describing hardworking players who had a bit of panache in their locker as well, this section is dedicated to the Premier League-winning skippers who perhaps weren’t the technical fulcrums of their respective teams but still knew how to thread a pass or curl a shot into the top corner.
10. Tony Adams
Referred to as simply “Donkey” in the earlier stages of his career, Tony Adams was about as hoof ball as it gets until Arsene Wenger came along. But the Frenchman gave the former England man far more licence in possession and by the time he captained Arsenal to their first two Premier League titles, Adam had developed a reputation for combining no-nonsense defending with trademark tears into midfield and occasionally even yonder - most famously running past Arsenal’s strikers to latch onto a Martin Keown through ball and net a volley against Everton that all-but sealed the Gunners’ first Premier League title.
9. Gary Neville
Gary Neville would be the first to admit that his lengthy reign as Manchester United’s right-back owed far more to his tactical intelligence and reading of the game than what he could do with the ball at his feet. That being said, a lot of hard work went into the technical side of his game and certainly during the days of his partnership with David Beckham, his overlapping runs and whips from out wide were a fundamental part of Man United’s play. Injuries meant he was never quite the same player when he came around to captaining the Red Devils to title glory, but the former England man always had something in his locker.
8. Tim Sherwood
Once infamously judged as on par with Zinedine Zidane by Blackburn owner Jack Walker, Tim Sherwood may have been a typically feisty midfield enforcer first and foremost, but he was a handy player in possession as well - netting an impressive six times as the Ewood Park outfit won the Premier League in the 1994/95 season. Sherwood was a classic box-to-box midfielder who could do a bit of everything, although his influence with the ball would be described more as consistently effective than technically majestic. Judging by his punditry career, he’ll have a few things to say about that.
7. Vincent Kompany
Having initially been deployed as a defensive midfielder at Manchester City, Vincent Kompany was always capable on the ball by centre-back standards. It wasn’t until he moved further back that he truly began to flourish, going on to captain City to three Premier League titles. Kompany simplified his game as he got older - not least because the injuries had begun to mount up - and was the only defender in Pep Guardiola’s team that could be considered somewhat old-fashioned, but his famous thunderbolt against Leicester City to all-but seal a second consecutive Premier League crown was a reminder of what he could do with a football.
6. Jordan Henderson
Jordan Henderson’s footballing ability has at times been deemed so limited that he’s been heckled as unworthy of wearing the same Liverpool armband once donned by Steven Gerrard. But while Hendo will himself admit he’s no Stevie G, his actual technical quality gets bizarrely downplayed. Henderson first broke onto the scene as a winger at Sunderland and in his early Reds career produced some fantastic form in an incredibly offensive box-to-box role, playing a key part in Liverpool’s 2013/14 title charge under Brendan Rodgers. Nonetheless, there have been a few too many sideways passes, wayward cross-field balls and blasts over the bar throughout his career, and thus Henderson will always be pigeonholed as an unsung workhorse rather than a progressive baller.
This final section of our rankings is dedicated to the captains who, as well as being fantastic leaders, could produce some real magic with the ball as well. It’s a very elite club to belong to, with every member being amongst the world’s best in their positions at their very peaks.
5. John Terry
It’s a huge testament to how good John Terry was as an out-and-out defender that his quality in possession was often overlooked as Chelsea managers continuously partnered him with centre-backs more of the ball-playing mould. Nonetheless, Terry could stop the ball dead on his chest, launch long passes with either foot and very, very rarely gave it away in dangerous areas. It also speaks to his ambi-pedal ability that despite being naturally right-footed, he played at left centre-back for the vast majority of his career. The Blues skipper will always be remembered for his capacity to lead during Chelsea’s first three Premier League titles, but he was a gifted technician as well.
4. Roy Keane
Another Premier League legend whose quality sometimes gets forgotten about, purely because of how exceptional the other aspects of his game were. Roy Keane will always be mentioned as a warrior-like leader and one of the nastiest midfielders you could ever come up against, but the Irishman at his peak could really play too, often taking the ball off Man United’s centre-backs to dictate from deep in the engine room, as well as launching counter-attacks by winning tackles before driving through the centre of the pitch with the ball at feet. Keane could score goals as well - something he did with impressive regularity during his time at Nottingham Forest - and were it not for the fact he was surrounded by so many offensive-minded talents like Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, he would likely have been given a more progressive role at United, truly showcasing how well-rounded a midfielder he was.
3. Bryan Robson
Speaking of well-rounded midfielders, they don’t come more complete than the legendary Bryan Robson, once described by namesake Bobby as “the greatest talent that England has ever produced”. The Manchester United joint-skipper, albeit playing an increasingly reduced role by the time the Premier League came to fruition, could impact equally at both ends of the field and was blessed with the energy to do continuously throughout ninety minutes. The Premier League was unfortunate not to see the best of him, but at his peak Robson was one of the best midfielders going.
2. Patrick Vieira
A midfield general of the highest quality who successfully blended immense physicality, defensive awareness and the ability to drive through the middle of the pitch with an unstoppable mixture of elegance and power. Patrick Vieira captained Arsenal during their iconic Invincibles season and his own style of play encompassed that of Wenger’s side - physical and resilient, yet technical and expressive. The Frenchman is one of the most complete footballers we’ve ever seen in the Premier League and lead his side through arguably the competition’s greatest ever achievement.
1. Eric Cantona
Having captained United during his final season at Old Trafford, Eric Cantona stands tall as easily the Premier League winning skipper with the most footballing ability. There’s even a case for him being the most naturally gifted footballer in Premier League history, let alone just amongst those who wore the armband, so his place in our rankings was pretty much a foregone conclusion from the start. A master maverick who shocked and delighted in equal measure, the Frenchman could score any type of goal with headers, volleys, free kicks, penalties and long-rang piledrivers all in his customary repertoire, and perhaps most impressively of all could create them for others with equal ease. A roaming forward who was seemingly born to kick a football, the fact Cantona could lead others while consistently producing the goods himself only highlights what a special and unique talent he was.
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