World Cup success is often defined by great leaders. Having a vocal captain on the pitch can be the difference between a team lifting the famous trophy and falling short of greatness. As the festival of football in Qatar engulfs the Middle East we’ve already seen how teams can be influenced by their captains. Considering this is the first-ever winter edition of the World Cup, the tournament has never felt so unpredictable, and with a combination of injuries and shock results, picking the favourites to win World Cup 2022 in the midst of the action is certainly a challenging task.
After bright starts, the likes of England and reigning champions France are amongst the favourites to go on and lift the trophy in Lusail for the December final. But how do the duo, who both ply their trades domestically for Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League, compare to some of the great leaders of years gone by. Read on, as we look at some of the best captains in the history of the World Cup.
A stalwart of German football, Franz Beckenbauer is rightly remembered as one of the best players in his country’s history. The versatile defender, who could just as easily slot into midfield as he could dictate a game’s pace from centre-back, represented his country at three tournaments — losing the 1966 final to England before gaining a measure of revenge in 1974, captaining his side as they beat the Netherlands 2-1. Beckenbauer was at the end of his career when the 1978 tournament rolled around, leaving Bayern Munich to play for New York Cosmos, which ultimately spelt the end of one of the best international careers in history.
If the expression ‘one-man team’ ever fitted a player, it would be the genius that was Diego Maradona. Regarded as a god in Argentina, the attacking midfielder was perhaps one of the greatest to ever play the game, and you only need to watch his performances at the 1986 World Cup to see why he is held in such high regard. A quick dribbler, Maradona’s feet would mesmerise defenders, and his will to win and elite mentality on the pitch helped guide Argentina to success in Mexico. Truly one of a kind.
One of the only managers to win the World Cup as a player as well as in the dugout, Didier Deschamps helped rediscover the love of football for the French. He donned the armband in the 1998 World Cup when France beat Brazil, starting alongside Christian Karembeu and Emmanuel Petit in a steely midfield. 20 years later he would lift the trophy again, this time as manager of France, showing what an influential figure he was on and off the pitch. Can he do it again in Qatar?
It is rare in modern football that a defender even comes close to winning the Ballon d’Or. The most recent candidate was Virgil van Dijk, who was within touching distance of Lionel Messi in 2019, but the last man to do so was Italian centre-back Fabio Cannavaro. A great communicator, Cannavaro was a rock at the back, and inspired by the generation before him, with the likes of Alessandro Costacurta and Franco Baresi, helped guide Italy to victory in the 2006 World Cup. Having stuck with Juventus through their relegation, he finally made the move to Real Madrid that summer and finished his career as one of the most distinguished defenders of the modern era.