The captaincy at Manchester United
Being captain for your team is a huge honor and something most players dream of. Getting the armband shows that your manager trusts you with all the responsibilities that comes with such a role. It requires certain characteristics, comes with a lot of responsibilities, and might be a daunting task for some. Captaining a Manchester United team might be the most challenging task a player can get, especially looking at previous club captains and the history of the club. It's the biggest club in the world after all. Manchester United Women might not have the highest standing in women's football yet, but they are building towards it, and one can't look past the fact that they still play under the brand name Manchester United.
When Manchester United established their women's team before the 2018/19 season, Alex Greenwood was given the armband. However, when she left for European giants Lyon and later Manchester City after just one season, manager Casey Stoney had to pick a new captain before the team's first season in the Women's Super League. Her choice fell on Katie Zelem with Amy Turner and Jane Ross as second and third choice, completing the captain's team. However, in some games both last season and this season, there have been some signs of a lack of leadership on the pitch. With that in mind, let's take a look at which characteristics a captain needs to have, which of the characteristics Zelem, Amy Turner and Ross have and don't have, if either of them are suited to be captain, and some alternatives for the captaincy within the current squad.
What makes a great captain?
The captain's role is very demanding and requires a lot of different characteristics. Not every captain fulfils all of them as it's possible to be a captain in different ways. It's often about how they themselves interprets the role and how they choose to solve it. Another thing to note is that if a player is given the captaincy, he or she obviously has the trust and belief from their manager that they are capable of fulfilling the role. However, the captain's role requires some crucial charactertistics which needs to be in place, with the most important one being leadership. A captain needs to be a proper leader for the team both on the pitch during games, in training and off the pitch. What "being a leader" involves can vary from person to person and captains can interpret it differently. Being a leader on the pitch can for example involve things like giving teammates instructions, communicate with referees, protect teammates, lead by example by setting the standard, push your teammates to achieve that set standard and not drop below it yourself, and by taking responsibility if the team struggles. On the pitch, the captain should be the manager's voice in a way. Being a leader off the pitch is different and can involve things like taking care of everyone and boosting the team morale. The captain also needs to have respect within the squad, from the manager, the staff and players. Casey Stoney obviously thinks Katie Zelem, Amy Turner and Jane Ross have what it takes and are capable of doing the captain's role for Manchester United, as she has picked them to make up her captain's team. As a captain's team they probably complement each other well and fulfil the mentioned "criterias" for the role, but as individual captains they might be lacking in some areas.
Current captains team; Lacking leadership on the pitch
When Casey Stoney was forced to name a new captain before the 2019/20 season, she said the following to MUTV about her thought process and what she was looking for in a captain:
“It needs to be someone the players trust and respect, someone who is capable of challenging both the players and the staff. It’s not been easy because we’ve got some fantastic characters in our group, but I have chosen Katie Zelem to lead us forward because she’s our most vocal player.
“She does lead by performance and communication and I just think the armband will add to her game, both on and off the pitch. “She’s very honest and is also very supportive of the players. I’ve seen a different side to her at times, so, for me, she stood out.
Stoney explained that Katie Zelem was named captain because she is very vocal, honest, supportive and leads by performance and communication, all important traits in a captain. This makes it very difficult to argue against Stoney as she knows best and it's impossible to know how Zelem is in the dressing room and off the pitch without having access to it. One therefore have to believe Stoney when she says Zelem is trusted and respected within the team, and honest and supportive of the other players. All these traits are important to have as a leader off the pitch. However, on the pitch, you want your captain to be vocal by giving instructions to teammates, shout at them if needed, but also leading by example by setting the standard with consistently good performances, take responsibility by putting in a crunching tackle and not drop below the set standard. Stoney claimed that Zelem leads by performance and communication, and whilst it can be seen at times, it's not seen often enough. In certain games both last season and this season, when United needed someone to step up by setting an example and take responsibility, no one did which was especially evident against Liverpool in this season's Conti Cup game. This is an area Zelem is lacking in when it comes to the captaincy. She doesn't seem to have that proper leadership on the pitch yet. She is rarely seen shouting at teammates or giving instructions despite being the most vocal player in the team according to Stoney. Another issue is that Zelem isn't a definite starter in the current Manchester United team. United have arguably looked better without her in the starting XI, and when she has played, her performances have been inconsistent. It sometimes looks like Stoney is forcing Zelem into the team because she's the captain, which is understandable as you want your captain to play, but it's not always what's best for the team. This is not to say that Katie Zelem is a bad captain, but she does lack in some areas with leadership on the pitch being one of them.
When Katie Zelem isn't playing, Amy Turner is the one who gets the armband. She is another player which isn't a regular starter for the team, but when she does play she always gives 100%. She definitely has the right mentality and attitude to be a part of the captain's team. She is capable of leading by example by setting the tone with a crunching tackle at the right time to encourage her teammates to up the aggression level which is always welcome. Amy Turner is also one of the most experienced players in the team which also comes in handy in the captain's role. However, as with Zelem, she is not often seen being overly vocal on the pitch. She doesn't give many instructions and she doesn't take the responsibility of being the manager's voice on the pitch. This can be said about the whole captain's team at Manchester United as Jane Ross is the third captain. The few times Ross has worn the armband, she hasn't shown much to justify her being one of the three captains. She seems more like a quiet leader which is part of the captain's team due to being one of the most experienced players. The fact that she isn't vocal on the pitch combined with very limited playing time and not showing many traits which a captain needs, makes it hard to understand why she has one of the three leading roles in the team. It's probaby due to her experience, but it shouldn't really be enough and probably a reason why she isn't higher up in the pecking order.
Potential options for the captaincy
With the lack of leadership becoming evident in certain games, should Manchester United and Casey Stoney consider changing her captain's team and if yes, who in the current squad would be considered as suitable options? Other than the three players who currently make up the captain's team, there are three other players who all have the potential to be great captains; Abbie McManus, Jackie Groenen and Millie Turner.
Abbie McManus is good at commanding as she's often seen being the one commanding and organising Manchester United's defence. McManus has a lot of experience which has been aquired throughout a long career both on club and national team level. Her performances are relatively consistent and she seems to have a great personality which suits the captain's role. She stands up for her teammates on the pitch if necessary and seems to have a very calm and composed personality. However, she does have some concentration issues and is sometimes prone to making mistakes on the pitch. This is not in her favour, but overall she is a great option as a potential future captain, or at least part of a future captain's team should it be changed.
Jackie Groenen is another option for the captaincy. She is also a very commanding player and does show leadership on the pitch. She is often seen in conversation with manager Casey Stoney and getting instructions during breaks of play, before passing the instructions on to her teammates when play resumes. Groenen is also one of those players who performs consistently well. She might not always have blinding games, but she very rarely has a stinker. This makes her a consistently good performer on the pitch, and her playing style with extremely high work rate and constant running shows that she is very capable of stepping up and lead by example. Despite being only 25 years old, Groenen has a lot of experience of playing in big games on international level. She won the Euros in 2017 and made the final of last year's World Cup with the Netherlands, so she has a great winning mentality and definitely knows what it takes to win. Some of her personality traits are also suitable for the role. Groenen is a very nice person who seems to get along with everyone very well and she seem like a very caring person. In addition, she is very fond of jokes and banter which can be good to make teammates relax a bit when needed and to boost team morale as well. However, Groenen is a bit chaotic and is often late to things, especially during national team camp. It's something she herself has said and she needs help from Dutch teammate Inessa Kaagman to sort things out and be on time during the camps. Being captain is something a player must be wanting, and Groenen herself might not want to take on that responsibility just yet. However, if she wants that responsibility in the future, she definitely has most of the traits and qualities needed to do a great job in the role, and would therefore be a very suitable captain.
Millie Turner is the final potential option as a future captain within the current squad. The reasoning for her being a good option is that she is also a commanding player. In addition, she is usually very consistent in her performances, very rarely injured and always plays which can be said about Groenen and McManus too. Turner is not afraid to put a tackle in either which can help her teammates to really get going should it be needed. As for her personality, she seems like a very happy and bubbly person which is good for morale boosting. However, she can be a bit chaotic which can both be good and bad. Another problem she has is that moment of "madness" on the pitch. She usually comes across as calm and composed, but she sometimes makes silly and unforgivable mistakes whilst seemingly being in relatively good control, proven by the penalty she gave away against Liverpool in the Conti Cup this season and the one she gave away against Chelsea at Kingsmeadow last season. However, she is still only 24 years old and has the chance to get rid of flaws like that and develop further into a great player and a potential captain.
It has become evident that Manchester United lack proper leadership on the pitch in certain games when they needed it. This is primarily the captain's responsibility, but it's also possible for other players to do that job. Katie Zelem is United's current captain, but she and the rest of the captain's team with Amy Turner and Jane Ross all lack that leadership on the pitch at times. However, Zelem has the manager's blessing to do the role, and despite lacking in some areas, she still has a lot of different characteristics suited for the captain's role which makes her a great captain in other important situations. Should Casey Stoney decide to make changes in her captain's team, there are players like Abbie McManus, Jackie Groenen and Millie Turner who are capable of taking up that role in the future. As of now though, Katie Zelem is the captain and is doing a good job in most areas required for the role, and if she needs help in other areas she will get it due to the togetherness of the squad. They are all capable of leading and contribute in some way, but Stoney has picked Zelem to be the main leader and is probably very satisfied with that.