This has been a big fortnight for Wayne Rooney, amid news that he is to become a father for the second time, he has donned the captain’s armband for England too. In doing so, he becomes the latest in a long line of Manchester United players to lead their national sides.
In addition to Rooney, the current United crop boasts Patrice Evra who has captained both France and the Manchester club on occasion. Rio Ferdinand has worn the armband for England but one suspects he won’t be doing so again any time soon.
Surely the best ‘team of captains’ belonged to Real Madrid’s Galactico era. On an average Saturday, Los Meringues would field Luis Figo, captain of Portugal, Zinedine Zidane, captain of France and David Beckham, captain of England. Not to mention Raul, captain of Spain, and there was also a chap named Ronaldo rounding out the teamsheet somewhere.
The strongest team of personalities at United is widely considered to have been the double-winning team from 1993/94. Ireland’s future captain Roy Keane lined up in midfield alongside the man who was to become England’s first black captain, Paul Ince. In goal, Peter Schmeichel led out Denmark on no less than 30 occasions. Rather ironically, the team was led by a player who never represented his country at all, Steve Bruce.
In recent years we have fielded Portuguese handshaker Cristiano Ronaldo. He arrived at the club just a month after the departure of a man whose leadership skills had earned him the nickname Le Presidente. Former France captain Laurent Blanc.
Ronaldo was famously the replacement for a certain David Beckham. Despite his free-kicks taking England to a tournament, Becks was criticised outrageously throughout his time in an England shirt. His era stands up favourably with the dross we put up with nowadays though. Bobby Charlton and Michael Owen have also held hands with a mascot for the Three Lions. Beckham captained England on 59 occasions, only six fewer than Bryan Robson, one of Manchester United’s greatest ever players. Robbo also managed to score the quickest international goal in history whilst wearing the armband.
Some players have saved their most prestigious moments for their nations. United recently sold a man who marshalled his nation for four years and is considered a god in his homeland, Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov. Others prefer to captain several countries at the same time, as Ryan Giggs did in this year’s Olympics.
Juan Sebastian Veron’s spell in England was a troubled one. Yet he was head of the Argentina squad in Japan and South Korea at the 2002 World Cup. The Argentines were dismal in that tournament though, even losing to England, and Veron was held largely responsible in his homeland.
United have also provided some notable Scotland captains and Gordon Strachan captained the Scots briefly. Many Reds are happy to see the return of Darren Fletcher to first-team action. No doubt his floundering nation are pleased about it too, as he was the captain before illness sidelined him two years ago.
Sir Matt Busby described selling hardman Johnny Giles to Leeds as one of the biggest mistakes of his career. Giles captained, and even player-managed, Ireland in the 1970s. He remains one of the games most respected analysts. Paul McGrath, another hugely influential player in Irish history, also captained the Emerald Isle for four games in 1992.
So Rooney joins some exalted company. Looking through the ranks now, one wonders who might potentially lead out their nations in years to come. Phil Jones perhaps? Rafael? De Gea? As long as they don’t get injured on international duty, I don’t mind.
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PA PhotosWayne Rooney opens the scoring against San Marino at Wembley from the penalty spot