What price captains?

The fact is that in football by and large at top level, alas more than ever now in an age when the manager and the coach tend to reign supreme, imposing their tactics on their teams not only in the dressing room but even from the touchline, the office of captain tends to be in essence AN HONORARY ONE.

The recent elevation of Chelsea's John Terry to the captaincy of England has largely evoked enthusiasm. He has been praised for his rugged and defiant approach to the game, the way when, having scored against Greece, he clutched the England insignia on his shirt, the way he now proposes to encourage new players (why?) to sing. Contrast has been made with the long regime of David Beckham, attacked by one columnist for what he saw as the nauseating self-serving nature of Beckham's public farewell.

As for me, I am irresistibly reminded of an old joke, which has one Jewish mother saying to another, "By you he's a captain, by me he's a captain but by captains is he a captain?" Terry didn't have much of a 2006 World Cup. In common with the rest of the England defence, he was all at sea against Sweden in an embarrassing second half. Worst of all, he made a horrific mis-heading error early in the game against Ecuador which would certainly have resulted in a goal had it not been for the desperate, resourceful intervention of Ashley Cole, thus turning the ball on to the bar. In Barcelona, we have seen Terry, playing for Chelsea, surprisingly bustled off the ball by Brazil's Ronaldinho, who ran on to score. The previous season, in the same European Cup competition, he was all at sea in Monaco.

Moreover, in the vernacular he has form. He was one of the several Chelsea players who on the dire day of 9/11 stripped off in a Heathrow airport bar to the horror of watching American tourists. His extra marital affairs seem to have been numerous. And he was arraigned in court after a confrontation with bouncers at a West End of London night club, though, on this occasion, he was acquitted.

The late Bobby Moore has been cited as the example of what a true England captain should be, but that makes me wonder a little. Bobby was beyond doubt an inspiring example, given his incredibly cool head whatever the pressure; occasionally too cool, as on that disastrous day in 1973 in Katowice when he some what arrogantly dwelt on the ball, in a World Cup eliminator, enabling Lubanski to dispossess him and run on to score Poland's second goal of a 2-0 win.

The truth is that Bobby was largely a deeply self contained, impassive, withdrawn figure, who, if he led did, so essentially by example rather than by a flow of advice. Nor were his relations with manager and guru of that England World Cup winning team, Alf Ramsey, invariably smooth. When England were about to go on a summer tour of the Americas in 1964, Bobby was among several England players who broke curfew, returning to their hotel to find their bags packed and their passports on their beds; a sharp warning from Ramsey.

And when the team reached New York to play the USA, Bobby initiated a protest against the amount of training imposed on the players. Not really marriage made in Heaven. There was even an instance before a World Cup when Ramsey preferred Norman "Bite Your Legs" Hunter to Bobby, eliciting the sensational prospect of Bobby being dropped; which in the event he wasn't. "Pushed Bobby Moore!" Ramsey subsequently smiled to me.

The fact is that in football by and large at top level, alas more than ever now in an age when the manager and the coach tend to reign supreme, imposing their tactics on their teams not only in the dressing room but even from the touchline, the office of captain tends to be in essence an honorary one. Of course, you will find the occasional Franz Beckenbauer or his equally influential Dutch rival, Johan Cruyff. But although Franz as a teenager virtually invented the attacking libero and thus Total Football, note that it was several years before Helmut Schoen, as manager, allowed him to fill that role for the West German national side as well as for Bayern Munich.

Turn back further in time and you find that even at right half Danny Blanchflower, an inspirational captain for Northern Ireland and Tottenham, was at the mercy of as mediocre and obscure a Tottenham manager as Jimmy Anderson. Danny was full of new tactical ideas and insights and when it came to international football, had an ideal relationship with the Ulster manager and former star inside left, Peter Doherty. Together they guided the team to a wholly unexpected passage to the 1950 World Cup Finals in Sweden, knocking out mighty Italy in Belfast on the way.

When first the teams met, it became a friendly when the Hungarian referee, Zsolt, was held up by fog. At the finish, hordes of angry Irish fans invaded the pitch, whereupon Danny told each member of his team to escort an Italian off the field. When the match was replayed the Irish won. "We've got a plan," joked Danny, before the Swedish finals. "We're going to equalise before the other team have scored!"

But when, in the 1956 FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, he moved the big Spurs centre half Maurice Norman into attack, and Tottenham lost, Jimmy Anderson, a pygmy by comparison with Danny deprived him of the captaincy.

Alf Ramsey himself was the salient influence of the Tottenham side, which won consecutive 2nd and 1st division titles in the early 1950s, so much so that, as right back, he was nicknamed The General. Yet the actual skipper was the Welsh international left half, Ronnie Burgess.

Johnny Haynes the Fulham inside left captained England in the 1962 World Cup in Chile but one remembers him as a surly figure out of form and sullen in his dealings with the Press, unable to dominate games tactically against teams which could read him all too well.

Captains? Let's just say that soccer isn't cricket, where skippers do really count.