How Do Football Teams Choose Their Captain

How Do Football Teams Choose Their Captain? (Explained)

Last updated on April 12th, 2022

Captaincy in football is a rather big deal. The role needs only the best leader in a team to carry out its numerous functions.

There are quite a few factors that go into selecting the players for this position of authority. 

Here’s what you need to know about how a captain is decided in a football team.

Who decides who should be captain?

Under normal circumstances, the final decision to select a captain for a team lies with the manager or coach of the team. Managers often pick the players they believe to possess the best qualities and appoint them as captains. This is the norm in football, and here are a few examples:

Harry Maguire

Manchester United defender Harry Maguire was named the club’s captain in his first season after moving from Leicester City in August 2019. He replaced Ashley Young as captain after Young’s transfer to Inter Milan in January 2020.

Maguire inherited the leadership role after then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was impressed by his leadership qualities.

“He’s come in and been a leader in the group. I’ve been, not surprised, but I’ve been impressed by his leadership skills, so Harry will keep on wearing the armband.”

“He’s come in, and everything about him tells me he is a leader. He’s part of a group that we’ve had, that have been leading this young group,” Solskjaer said in 2020. 

The Englishman has retained the captain’s armband at Manchester United since then.

Marc Guehi

Crystal Palace’s 21-year-old central defender Marc Guehi has captained the club on several occasions due to manager Patrick Vieira’s trust in the youngster despite his youth.

The manager has observed that the English defender possesses the required leadership qualities and temperament and has rewarded him with the captaincy on a series of occasions.

Jorge Costa

The story of Jorge Costa’s captaincy is quite brilliant. When a young Jose Mourinho arrived at FC Porto, he set aside two players from whom the captain of the team would emerge. These players were goalkeeper Victor Baia and central defender Jorge Costa.

After they were informed of Mourinho’s decision to pick a captain between them, they declined the position and recommended each other.

Mourinho ended up choosing Costa, and the defender lifted the UEFA Champions League trophy as captain in 2004.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi struggled on the international stage until Alejandro Sabella was named manager in 2011. He made Messi the team’s captain, taking the armband from Javier Mascherano, the captain before him. 

Messi’s appointment as captain coincided with an incredible improvement in his performance for his country. In addition, the forward led his country to the final of three international tournaments in 2014, 2015, and 2016 before finally winning the Copa America trophy in 2021.

How do managers decide captaincy choices?

Here are some ways that managers may decide who should be the captain of the team:


Sometimes, many managers believe too much thought is put into choosing a captain for a team. Thus, they would instead leave the captaincy with whoever they meet in the role. However, this choice could sometimes not be the best because the managers in this situation may struggle with authority in their team over time.

On several occasions, the manager has nothing to do with choosing the team’s captain because there is no need to. These managers come into teams that already have their captains, and they see no need to interfere with the selection. 

For example, in all of the years of hiring and firing managers by Chelsea, John Terry remained as captain under all the managers.

Likewise, we could say the same about Sergio Ramos in his latter years at Real Madrid after being named captain. 

Secret Ballot

Usually, the manager is always involved in selecting a captain for his team, even though he may not impose any particular player to be selected.

This happened with Arsenal in 2019 when former manager Unai Emery held a secret ballot for the players to choose who their next captain would be.

The popular choice was midfielder Granit Xhaka, and the Swiss international was handed the captain’s armband.


Another unique system employed by managers is to rotate the captaincy among different players.

Brazil manager Tite used this method after being appointed to lead the Seleçao in 2016. By the 2018 FIFA World Cup, his team already had 14 different captains lead the team. At the 2018 FIFA World Cup tournament proper, Marcelo, Thiago Silva, and Joao Miranda captained Brazil during the group stages.

Silva and Miranda again captained the Seleçao in the knockout stages before they were sent crashing out of the competition in the quarterfinal. 

Another high-profile manager to have used this system is England’s former manager Fabio Capello. In his first games in charge of the Three Lions in 2008, he rotated the captaincy between several players, including Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard

Similarly, the Blue Tigers, India’s national team, employed the captaincy rotation system at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. 

Before the 2018 World Cup, Gareth Southgate allowed all of Jordan Henderson, Eric Dier, and Harry Kane to captain England before settling for Kane as the permanent captain.

Moreover, Clarence Seedorf rotated the captaincy of the Cameroon national team after he was appointed as the coach of the Indomitable Lions in 2018.

Leadership Group

Sometimes, managers set up leadership groups from which the captains emerge. For example, this has been Pep Guardiola’s go-to system in his managerial career.

At FC Barcelona, he had the likes of Carles Puyol, Eric Abidal, Victor Valdes and Xavi, with Puyol serving as the permanent captain.

Presently, at Manchester City, he has Fernandinho as his captain and has Ilkay Gundogan, Ruben Dias, and Kevin De Bruyne in his leadership group. 

Guardiola’s protégé and Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has employed the same system after stripping Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the captaincy in 2021. Instead, he has a leadership group comprising Alexandre Lacazette, Kieran Tierney, Granit Xhaka, and Rob Holding.

Lacazette is the captain for the later part of the 2021/22 season, but any of these other players can take up the armband in his absence.

How else is captaincy decided?

In football, captaincy may also be decided by the amount of time a specific player has spent on the team.

In such a situation, the manager has almost zero control of who gets the role. For example, even when FC Barcelona went through a managerial crisis between 2019 and 2021, the hierarchy of their captaincy was fixed. Lionel Messi was the longest-serving player and remained the captain no matter which manager came on board.

When Messi left for Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2021, the next senior player in the squad, Sergio Busquets, took the captain’s armband. 


In conclusion, it is noteworthy that most times, the decisions surrounding the captaincy of a team lie with the manager or coach. There are, however, circumstances that take this choice out of the hands of the coach.

It is possible for defenders, strikers or goalkeepers to be the captain of the team.

Such cases may include the team having a fixed hierarchy or system which the captaincy follows or the manager seeing no need to change anything. 

The manager mainly makes the decisions if he wants to change captains in a football team.

If a manager feels like a player is not doing enough as captain, they can strip them of the armband and give it to another player.

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