Jason Pearce left the club today joining Wigan on a long-term deal and leaving Neil Redfearn to decide on who becomes vice-captain of a young team seriously lacking in experience.

This isn’t a new issue for Leeds, the selection of recent-acquisition Liam Cooper – who’s still only made a dozen appearances for the club – as captain speaks volumes to the lack of obvious choices at Elland Road.

It’s not that having a few years of Leeds United experience behind you is a strict prerequisite for the captaincy gig, Gordon Strachan managed to scrape by just fine after all, but Leeds haven’t even had the luxury of an experienced head brought in from elsewhere to call upon, partly due to Cellino recruiting a very young squad last summer.

What that leaves is a Leeds United squad whose most experienced first team player – by count of appearances for the club – is 21-year old Sam Byram. Second on the list is out-of-favour Aidy White, himself only 23-years old and the only other player to have made over 100 appearances for Leeds.

The only name that really jumped out in our squad list is Rudy Austin, third in terms of Leeds United experience, but it’s a road already well-trodden. Austin was appointed captain while still getting to grips with the expectation levels and chaos of life at Elland Road, buckling under the weight of extra responsibility.

I’d rule out new arrival Sol Bamba too – at least until we’ve seen him in action and he’s had chance to acclimatise. You could make an argument for him being the experienced older head, like Gordon Strachan was, but Strachan came from an entirely different environment, he commanded a huge amount of respect for what he’d already accomplished and was used to a pressure-cooker atmosphere and the weight of expectations at a club of Leeds’ stature. It was a bit more like the Craig Bellamy situation at Cardiff than just signing an older head, Strachan was someone who’d already earnt the respect.

Looking at a squad list and trying to decide the best captain based on age and experience ignores the x factor of course. No, I’m not talking about ITV’s annual karaoke contest, but a certain something which makes players rally behind a Lucas Radebe or a Billy Bremner, two players with wholly different personalities but who both commanded great respect from their peers.

The fact is, there’s no age or experience requirement on leadership skills and it’s not something you learn; people generally have it or they don’t and in any group of people, the group organically selects it’s own leader. Think about your own group of friends for example and there’ll be someone who became de facto leader without ever volunteering or realising it had happened – the guy who gets lumbered with coordinating every night out, organising lads holidays/gigs/stag dus/away games etc.

As anyone who’s taken part in a management retreat can testify, even in a group full of leaders, the group still selects a leader. I’ve taken part in a few (we endure such madness every year) but one in particular stands out from a couple of years back that was like a bizarre cross between an extreme survival documentary and American Pie Band Camp, it involved activities like capture-the-flag paintballing and raft-building which called for teamwork and as such, required a leader to coordinate. Now maybe it’s because the rest of us had been on working retreats before and weren’t taking it very seriously (at least until my competitive streak kicked in) but by the time we’d started building our raft, we were all relying upon and looking to one of the youngest and easily the least experienced member (in terms of rank and time served) of our team to coordinate. We’d subconsciously made the new kid our leader.

I don’t know whether that happened because the rest of us were too jaded and hungover to care or if the kid just has more natural leadership clout, but he’s continued to climb through the ranks and remains very popular at any work gatherings so let’s assume it’s the latter.

If that’s the case, why would football be any different? A lot has been made about Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson being natural leaders and both are already making in-roads to becoming captains of their clubs, despite being surrounded by older, more-experienced heads who, on paper at least, would look the better choice.

And if you accept that age (and experience too perhaps) count for very little, maybe we’re ignoring the better candidates at Elland Road? Maybe there’s a young leader (or deputy leader in this case) in Redders’ youth revolution and our natural inclination towards the older, more-experienced players when considering candidates for captaincy roles is preventing us from seeing the next great leader of our once great club?

If one of our younger players does fit that bill – and I’m thinking specifically of Sam Byram and Lewis ‘old beyond his years’ Cook here – then doesn’t the vacant vice-captaincy present a perfect opportunity to start preparing them for the future?

10 Responses

  1. Melv

    Redders will know who has the desire and the ear of the rest of them.. passion and pride every time they pull on the shirt

  2. markman

    why not make it like the apprentice?
    ask the players who they want as captain

  3. Tare

    Sam Byram would be my choice 1st but watching with closer view well Lewis Cook is definitely Captain material. But for the other material Chris Dawson will be on hell of a player and leader when his time comes. Tare

  4. paul warrick

    I believe Redders has seen this coming as only this week gave Murphy THAT tag, he’s a “natural leader” during his presser if my memory since 04.45 this morning serves me correct. Personally I’d have expected a leader to rise to the top by now, ooops he did, Steve Warnock.
    So with both of our most recent captains sold & a 3rd almost ushered out the door until Redders said “no Rudi is going nowhere” speech I’d be a little worried who carries the mantle next.
    Right now I don’t see that leader with the required credentials to support Cooper. I was hoping Sylvestri might be the one but after his tentative showings this season he’s clearly not ready yet unless giving him the vice captaincy has a galvanising effect.
    Cook I hear people say, not for me right now. Too much pressure too soon, let the lad just enjoy playing, don’t weigh him down with anything which may affect him adversely.
    Sam Byram, just not my idea of a leader vice or otherwise, if he had it in him he’d have already stood out in that way.
    All in all that natural leader hasn’t surfaced yet (Cooper aside) but I’m sure before this season is over we will see someone grow into the role.

  5. Mike

    Cook may have what it takes in the future but at 17 just let him at least finish the season without yet another burden. Byram to me doesn’t act like a leader despite being one of the better players. But what do we know? As TSS said above the leaders will emerge on their own through their natural proclivity to lead. Time will tell lads

  6. Adam Persson

    A captain is a leader on the pitch. I think it’s hard to see who has that in him at some times. I’m pretty sure redders can see it a lot more clearly in the practice..I know a lot of great captains who barely even speak..

  7. Irving08

    Captaincy matters little at the top level in modern football, where it is a game between coaches. At our level it is of some, but not much importance. Overall captaincy is now mainly a PR role. I thought Pearce was good PR; Cook will be, if he stays around long enough. Cooper doesn’t seem stereotypical enough.

    Besides, where are the books on captaincy in football ? A book like Brearley’s on cricket captaincy is inconceivable.

  8. PMH

    Not sure I care if we have a captain or vice captain just so long as we have leadership on the pitch. It does seem rather ridiculous to be pick a captain from a bunch of young lads and Italians who can’t speak English well. Rudy Austin is back in good graces and is the obvious choice except that he choked on the Captaincy last time. Sol Bamba does look like a potential candidate. He seems bright and a solid type, but give him a few weeks and we’ll no doubt find something wrong with him too.


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