When joining The Arsenal in 1986, George Graham spoke highly of his (then) 20 year old defender: "One day he'll captain Arsenal, and I think eventually he'll captain England". Of course, George's words would come true as Tony became club captain in 1988, and went on to become captain of the national side in the 1990s. By the time he retired from the game, Adams had become The Arsenal's greatest captain of all time; leading the team to nine major honours including league titles in three different decades, and being only one of two Arsenal captains to lift a European trophy.
In recent years, we've seen Arsenal teams get easily brushed aside by opponents, and sometimes end up on the other side of disgraceful, absolutely embarrassing hammerings. Can you imagine teams led by Adams imploding in this way?
The issue of leadership and the role of Arsenal captain got me thinking. Over the past few years, have we had characters talented and strong enough to drive their team on? Below is a brief run-down of the captains I've seen play for The Arsenal and how I rate each of them.
Kenny is the best left back I've ever seen play for The Arsenal. A tough tackler but supremely talented as a footballer, during his career he became England's most capped full back. The Arsenal sides in the early to mid 80s were bang average, but Kenny dragged them through that period. Of course in 1986, George Graham came along and just a few months later, Kenny led his team up the steps at Wembley to lift the Littlewoods Cup..
Aside from all the silverware he captained his Arsenal teams to, Tony was a true leader. A warrior on the pitch but a fantastic player with it, he knew how to control his defence and he commanded respect from his team. If the performance wasn't up to scratch, Tony would be there bellowing out instructions, jockeying players along and giving them the proverbial boot up the arse if they deserved it. To my mind this is everything a captain should be on the pitch. A real driving force who got the best out of his team.
When Tony Adams announced his retirement from the game before the 2002-03 season, Patrick was given the honour of captaining The Arsenal. I have to say it was very deserved; in my opinion back then, Vieira was the best central midfielder in the world - a truly outstanding footballer and he never hid on the pitch. He was strong, he knew how to put a tackle in, and he was a real leader of his team. Team mates looked up to him (quite literally!) and he physically drove the team to greatness.
To me, this is when the role of Arsenal captain started to become less about leadership ability but more about seniority. Of course, Thierry was an absolutely amazing player but more often than not when things weren't going right on the pitch, he spent his time sulking and throwing dirty looks at colleagues who hadn't made the right pass or hadn't given him the ball. is that the sign of a real leader? Not for me. Yes, a legend of The Arsenal but I feel he was made captain to keep him at the club.
Another player who was given the armband due to experience and seniority in what was a young team. A chainsmoking loon who wasn't mentally strong enough to be captain of The Arsenal. When his team chucked away the lead at Birmingham - and in my opinion the league title - Gallas kicked off after the final whistle and sat sulking on the St Andrews pitch. Is that the mark of a professional, of someone who should have the honour of captaining The Arsenal? Not for me.
Like Henry before him, I feel that Fabregas was awarded the honour in an attempt to keep him sweet. No disputing his skills as a footballer, but he was hardly a driving force and definitely not a leader of the team. Being overplayed, he spent long periods injured and near the end of his Arsenal career while his team was losing at Fulham, Cesc showed off tweeting pictures of himself at the Spanish Grand Prix. He then forced an exit, refusing to join the team on the pre-season tour. Is this how to behave when you have the honour of being Arsenal captain? Never in a million years.
Yet another key player in our team who'd been attracting interest from other clubs. The man himself had been publicly slating the club's lack of ambition on the pitch, so what do we do? That's right, make him captain. Having already shown his 'leadership' skills by captaining the side which disgracefully lost the 2011 Carling Cup Final, van Persie for me did absolutely bugger all in the skipper's role. Another case of a top player who isn't cut out to be a true driving force in leading his team.
This is one where I honestly thought it might work, and that we'd have a tough character driving the team on. From the start of his Arsenal career, Vermaelen looked the business - a great footballer but one who wasn't afraid to get stuck in. Only problem was he then started to pick up injuries and completely lost his form, making numerous expensive mistakes. I'd hoped he'd be our Vidic, but he ended up being a shadow of what many fans envisaged he'd become in his role as captain.
Arteta had already been stand-in captain for some time before officially being named the new Arsenal skipper in the summer of 2014. It appears to be yet again a case of an experienced player being given the armband, irrespective of whether or not he's a great leader on the pitch. Despite having "perfecto" hair, for me Mikel's best days as a footballer are behind him. He's often too slow and off the pace of the game, and I don't see him geeing his team up and driving them on.
For me, definitely. Since Patrick Vieira left, the role of Arsenal captain has been diluted, disrespected and generally handed out to players who don't really deserve the honour. We haven't had leaders out there on the pitch, driving their teams forward, commanding respect and dragging certain individuals up when they're not putting in the required effort.
Now of course it may be that we don't have the right personalities in the squad to step up and be a true top rate leader, so then questions have to be asked of the man who has constructed these squads. We've gone from being a big, strong, quick team who can mix it up, to a small, weak, pushover team that gets bullied and overrun in games against the better opposition.
When push comes to shove, I feel we need to go back to having a powerful enforcer in the team. A highly-skilled, physical presence who knows what it means to fight for the cause, who knows what it means to be captain of The Arsenal, and who can command respect from his colleagues around him. So... who is that man? Over to you, Arsene.
Up The Gunners.