How relevant should the current form of a potential captain be?
That Granit Xhaka’s appointment as the new Arsenal captain could have been deemed questionable on recent form, belies the whole point of captaincy.
If a manager dictates the tone of a team, the captain, in turn, reflects it. Everywhere. Both Unai Emery and Xhaka are intelligent, considered thinkers on the game, whose sense of control is underpinned by a will, a want to win.
When Xhaka was substituted in Arsenal’s recent, dramatic turnaround victory over Aston Villa, his 72nd minute departure from the pitch, was met by some sectional jeers.
This would lead down a path of thought that if the 27-year-old Swiss international was suffering a dip in form, his starting berth in the team could not be guaranteed. On that basis, the captaincy could have been left in abeyance. But it wasn’t.
There was no doubt in the Arsenal players’ minds. It was them who voted and made the decision, not Emery. Emery handed the responsibility to the players, and said that he gave the players a list of values and qualities that he felt best suited a potential captain. He gave his players a criteria, and they found the best man to fit it.
There are four understudies in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Héctor Bellerín, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Özil. In that order too. The reason for the order, it would seem, being the distribution of votes.
The vote is a reflection of the reality that how Xhaka is being portrayed and in turn perceived, outside of the club, is in no way akin to how those around him at the club feel about him.
💬 "I trust and believe in him and he is a good man, a good professional and a good player."
👔 @UnaiEmery_ explains the factors that influenced his decision to name Granit Xhaka as our club captain
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) September 27, 2019
Emery labelled the player as good. A good player, professional, and most significantly a good man. It’s that goodness that people gravitate to. Innate decency is a trait that is rarely attributed to modern players, when the game is looked at in broad strokes. There is plenty of it around though, when you strip back an obsession with the income levels of players. Decency doesn’t tie in with deep pockets.
The game and the players in it, are as shallow as we want to perceive them.
Xhaka has described himself as a simple man in the past. He enjoys hanging out in Camden, and if he enjoys the simplicity of life, it does not make for a man with no depth. Son of a former political prisoner from whom he prides himself on inheriting his mental strength. Speaker of four languages. Grounded, introspective and culturally aware.
On the pitch, an adroit, accurate passer. Committed and capable of splitting sides with his distribution.
His traits are varying, football, non-football, they all tie in together, regardless. These many layers make up the player, the man. And in turn, Arsenal’s right choice for captain.