The Roar
The Roar


Trimming the fat from leadership groups and co-captains

Roar Guru
11th March, 2012

When the football seasons proper begin in a few weeks time, don’t be surprised to see more players than ever pointing, giving instructions and generally looking like they’re running the show.

Not that long ago it was sufficient for a football club to have a captain, a vice-captain, and perhaps a deputy vice-captain to muster the troops on-field and issue directives as required.

I can’t recall any captains complaining about the onerous burden of their leadership necessitating the wider distribution of responsibilities, but apparently one or two official team leaders are no longer enough.

The traditional leadership model has given way to the leadership group in recent years, and the number of players within these units seems to multiply each season.

If you’ve been at a club longer than a couple of years and can tie your bootlaces together without falling over in a bumbling heap then you qualify, no, deserve a leadership title.

The Adelaide Crows are a case in point. This season the Crows named a five man leadership group in Nathan van Berlo (captain), Patrick Dangerfield, Ben Rutten, Rory Sloane and Scott Thompson.

Five players with an official leadership role in eras gone by would be more than enough, but not in the modern game apparently. The Crows also saw fit to name a separate six player ‘emerging leaders group.’

It is unclear why the Crows introduced an emerging leaders group when the leadership group proper already included a pair of 21 year olds in Dangerfield and Sloane, who will presumably take on further responsibility in future years.

With the addition of Michael Doughty as mentor to the emerging leaders group, the tally of players on the Adelaide list with a leadership title swells to a faintly ridiculous twelve.


The AFL is not the only football code which could benefit from the trimming of some leadership fat.

In a decision which delighted few besides those deriving an income from the production of honour boards, NRL side South Sydney named five joint co-captains under new coach Michael Maguire this year.

The situations at Adelaide and South Sydney are indicative of the wider willingness of football clubs to distribute leadership roles to a greater number of players, with no clearly discernable benefit other than to gently massage the egos of their stable of Generation Y stars.

The growing number of players given leadership titles appears to be a direct result of playing lists populated almost entirely by members of this ‘gold star’ generation – identified by their constant need for positive reinforcements and affirmations of their value.

Every member of Generation Y must win a prize, no one is left out, and so it seems that every player must have an Official Title.

There is the team captain(s), his deputy, third in charge, backline leaders, forward line leaders, midfield leaders, community leaders, players’ representatives, emerging leaders, person responsible for checking players’ hair has been satisfactorily coiffed ahead of highly televised matches, the bloke in charge of making sure players’ iPods are charged pre-match, and so the list goes on.

The on-field role of a captain in either football code is comparatively easier than the tasks performed by the captains of some other sports.

A cricket captain is responsible for important decisions which can govern the outcome of a match such as bowling changes, declarations and the like. By contrast, a football captain’s greatest on-field responsibility is to toss the coin at the start of the match, and point in the direction the wind is blowing if it falls his way.


Leadership of a sports team has previously been associated with an elevation and separation from the general playing group, but it is now possible for over half the players on the field at any one time to hold some form of leadership position at a club.

I wonder what the great captains of the past would make of the many and varied leadership roles these days. I dare say messrs Barassi and Meninga would prefer to handle the reigns of a team in their own right, without requiring input from all and sundry.

It is true that today it is a different game to when either of these players took to the field, but the responsibilities of captain and on-field leadership have not changed markedly since their playing days.

The ever increasing emphasis placed on leadership groups and the value placed on the collaborative input of all players has diminished the prestige that was once associated with the role of captain.

Perhaps the only place football clubs want followers anymore is on their social media accounts.

You can follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelFilosi