Being the captain of a soccer team is the highest honor that a player can be given at their club, with them being trusted to act as the manager’s man on the pitch. The role of the captain is to act as a leader and set an example that the rest of the team should follow.
There have been some truly legendary captain’s throughout the history of the sport and today we’ll be counting down our top ten. Let’s get right into it.
Here are the 10 best captains in soccer history.
10. Bryan Robson
We begin our list with a man that held the nickname ‘Captain Marvel’ during his time with the armband at Manchester United.
The English Midfielder is also one of the club’s most famous holders of the iconic number 7 jersey that is currently worn by Cristiano Ronaldo.
Robson joined Manchester United in 1981, where he joined up with his former manager at West Bromwich Albion, Ron Atkinson. Atkinson would later be replaced by Alex Ferguson who kept Robson as his captain.
Robson would go on to become the definition of the 1980s era at Old Trafford and helped to build what would later become the most successful soccer dynasty that England had ever seen. In his time in Manchester Robson made 345 appearances for the ‘Red Devils’ and scored 74 goals.
9. John Terry
Staying in England, next up on this list is another player that would help define an era for his club and become one of its most legendary stars. John Terry played for London-based club Chelsea for 19 years and led the team through the most successful times in its history.
During his time at Chelsea, the club won a total of 14 trophies including the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. It was an era of near endless success, that was personified by Terry and his compatriot Frank Lampard.
Once his time at Chelsea eventually came to an end, Terry moved to Aston Villa (who were in the Championship at the time) as he did not want to face his former club.
Terry played for the Villains for just one season before joining the backroom staff at the club that would later be promoted back to the Premier League.
As the now famous banner at Stamford Bridge states, John Terry truly was a ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’.
8. Johan Cruyff
One of the classiest players to have played the game, Dutch hero Johan Cruyff is next up on our list. The Dutchman held the armband during his years with homeland club Ajax Amsterdam.
The 1970s were a period of great success for Ajax, with the club winning three consecutive European Cups with Cruyff as their captain. It appeared as though success would simply follow wherever the Dutchman kicked a soccer ball.
What made this Ajax team so revered in the history of soccer was the style of play that they created. With Cruyff being the center of everything, the team played with a sleekness and moveability that had never before been seen on a soccer field. The Netherlands national team still play like this today.
It is not often that it can be said that one player changed the game forever, but in Johan Cruyff was a captain that did just that. Whilst at Ajax, Cruyff scored a staggering 190 times in just 240 appearances.
7. Franco Baresi
From the Dutch Eredivisie, we move over to the Italian Serie A and an iconic defender that helped to lead AC Milan to greatness throughout his long and storied career with the ‘Rossoneri’.
In his 20 years in Northern Italy, Baresi oversaw a revolution at AC Milan that would see them win six Italian titles and three European Cups.
What made Baresi so loved, (aside from his many years of service to Milan) was that he was a small man that would not traditionally be considered the right height to be a legendary centre-back.
This did not matter though, as Baresi embodied the classiness of Italian soccer in this era and as excellent on the ball as he was off it.
The Italian spent his entire playing career with AC Milan and would be regarded as the clubs greatest ever defender and captain, had it not been for the sudden emergence of Paulo Maldini…
6. Carles Puyol
Can you imagine what it must be like to have led the team that many have called the greatest of all time? Well for Carles Puyol that question was his reality for many years during his time as captain of Barcelona.
The Catalonian played for his local team for the entirety of his career and helped to guide Barcelona to some of their most famous triumphs, alongside the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta he would form part of a squad that will be fondly remembered for decades to come.
For many, what made Puyol stand out from his teammates was not only his calm head and dependable defensive acumen but his long and messy hairstyle that accompanied his career. Whilst with Barcelona, Puyol would play 392 times and score 11 goals.
If a man can successfully lead a team with that many stars in, then he is truly worthy of his place as one of the best captains in history.
5. Tony Adams
As we reach the halfway stage in our list, we’re heading back to England and another legendary defender that captained his side during some its best years.
Like many in this list, Tony Adams was a one-club man. The Englishman played 672 times for his beloved Arsenal across 19 years of service.
Similarly to Bryan Robson who was mentioned earlier in this piece, Adams represented the pre and post Arsène Wenger era at the ‘Gunners’. It was when the club’s greatest ever manager joined in 1996 that Adams would become the leader that his team really needed.
Adams did go through some difficult periods in his life, with alcoholism being a major part of this. Nowadays though, the great man is sober and enjoying a career as a soccer pundit.
As captain, Adams led Arsenal to 10 major trophies, including an impressive three league titles across three different decades.
4. Franz Beckenbauer
Yet another player on this list that helped to create a new role in soccer, the man nicknamed ‘Der Kaiser’ is one of the greatest defenders to have ever graced the game.
Franz Beckenbauer captained one of the great Bayern Munich sides that won three consecutive European Cup titles between 1974 and 1976.
What Beckenbauer is most famous for (at least position-wise) is creating the now widely used defensive sweeper position. This role involves sitting in front of the back line, breaking up the opposition attacks, and then starting an attack of his own.
The German was also one of the best tacklers in the world and had a range of passing that most defenders can only dream of. Beckenbauer won both the World Cup and European Championship with West Germany.
In terms of personal honors, Beckenbauer was named as a member of the ‘World Team of 20th Century’ in 1998 as well as the FIFA World Cup Dream Team in 2002.
3. Paolo Maldini
Earlier, we discussed the great Franco Baresi who was certainly one of the best captains in the history of AC Milan. There is only one player that can be considered ‘better’ than Baresi for the ‘Rossoneri’ and that is arguably the best defender of all time, Paulo Maldini.
Like Baresi, Maldini spent his entire career in Milan and partnered with the former for many of his formative years. The pair would form one of the strongest defensive partnerships in history. When Baresi eventually retired, Maldini was already near the top of his game and had big shoes to fill as captain.
The Italian went on to play for another 12 years, playing over 900 games for AC Milan and leading them to countless honors. It was an immense period of success for the Italian giants and the man nicknamed ‘Il Capitano’ personified this.
2. Roy Keane
It was a hard decision to separate the top two on this list, but somebody has to be second and that man is the fiery Irishman Roy Keane. Keane captained Manchester United in the late 90s and oversaw a period of unparalleled success for the ‘Red Devils’
The reason that Keane is so high in this list is that he is the most combative captain to have ever played the game. The Irish legend was never afraid to make a tackle and was widely known for his rivalry with Arsenal man Patrick Viera.
Whilst Keane was captain of the club, United won four Premier League titles and perhaps more importantly they took their second UEFA Champions League title in 1999. The Semi-Final second leg of this competition is widely regarded as Keane’s greatest game for United.
In typical Keane fashion, he put in one of the most selfless performances that have been seen on a soccer field. Keane single-handedly dominated the Juventus midfield, throwing in endless tackles and charging down the opposition whenever he could.
The fact that Keane picked up a booking that day, which saw him miss out on the Final seems all befitting of the legend.
1. Steven Gerrard
Here we have it, we have reached the end of our list and the greatest captain of all time. After all of the one-club men that have been featured earlier in this piece, it seems right to finish with the player that personifies what it means to play for just one team throughout his career.
The man nicknamed ‘Captain Fantastic’ was the truest scouser to have ever played for his hometown club of Liverpool and led them to of their most famous triumphs in history. The Englishman was made captain of the club in 2003 and held the armband for 12 years.
What makes the Gerrard legend even greater is that he never managed to win the Premier League title with Liverpool, despite many years of coming close.
Most famously Gerrard himself let the title ‘slip’ away from Liverpool’s grasp in 2014 after falling over and allowing Chelsea’s Demba Ba to bury his side’s chances of winning the title.
It was an amazing career for Gerrard, but like Ba said after his goal ‘Not all stories can end in fairy tales’.