The Liverpool FC Vice-Captain Conundrum

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Ray Wilson looks at the candidates for the new position of vice-captaincy at Liverpool, following Jamie Carragher’s retirement.

carra_2012leaguecupfinal

On May 19th 2013, Jamie Carragher played his final game for Liverpool Football Club. After 737 appearances, the Bootle born defender drew his illustrious career to a close with a 1-0 victory over QPR. He almost sealed it with a wonder strike but, for a man known for his colossal contributions in defence, the clean sheet and victory will surely have proved the sweetest send off.

Next season will be the first time in over sixteen years that his name has not graced the squad list and, truth be told, I’m not sure it will sink in until we get to that point. In amongst this, it will be the first time in ten years that Liverpool will have a new vice captain. Since 2003, Carragher has served as Steven Gerrard’s right hand man, present to organize and rally the troops both on and off the field. It is a position of responsibility that he has performed with aplomb, and now leaves his successor with big boots to fill. But who will this successor be?

During my travels across the numerous Liverpool related fan sites, message boards, blogs and social networks, I’ve found that there’s a core of four prominent candidates on the lips of the Kopite faithful: Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Lucas Leiva, and Luis Suarez. On the face of it they all seem perfectly fitting but, under finer observation, perhaps they each bring different qualities to the role. Here I thought I’d explore the men in contention, and what they could bring to the position of vice captain.

Pepe Reina                       Joined: July 2005                    Appearances: 394

Pepe Reina

If you’re basing the decision purely on experience then stop what you’re doing, pack up and go home. Reina is your man. He’s been at the club the longest and his appearance tally stands far greater than the rest. He was one of the heroes of the FA Cup success in 2006, featured in the Champions League run of 2007, and bagged himself three consecutive ‘Golden Glove’ awards for the most clean sheets in the Premier League between 2005-06 and 2007-08. He has been (and still is) a great success – and we haven’t even mentioned his multiple international honours, or his role as the master of ceremonies for a Spanish squad littered with some of the finest players ever to play the game.

I would hesitate to hand him the full captaincy on a permanent basis as, personally, I prefer the idea of a mobile captain, battling in the thick of the action. As a vice-captain, though, I’m sure he could supplement Gerrard very well. Whilst Gerrard leads by example, Reina can adopt Carragher’s mantle by barking orders and ensuring that everybody is switched on. He’s a massive character in the group and I’ve no doubt that the players would respect and respond to him. It’s also worth mentioning that he seems to be a good actor. To me, that counts.

Daniel Agger                   Joined: January 2006              Appearances: 209

agger2012_thirdkit

What about Daniel Agger? He doesn’t have as much experience or decoration but, on the other hand, he is the captain of his country – already a leader of men. Couple this with the fact that he seems to have put his injury worries firmly behind him (35 league games last term was a personal high), and I think we could rely on him to lead the group alongside Steven Gerrard.

He’s also shown great allegiance to the club. Last summer, with rumours rife of a possible departure, he added a new tattoo to his collection – the acronym YNWA upon the fingers on his left hand. This helped to fortify a bond with the fan base that was already strong and I’m sure they, like me, would love to see such fierce loyalty rewarded with a promotion.

It could be that there’s also value in one defender passing the role on to another – consistency with a leader at the back and, in this case, a player who very much fits in with Rodgers’ playing philosophy. He may not be quite as imposing as Reina, but Agger could prove a shrewd appointment. I have a sneaking suspicion that he would really relish the role, step up, chest pumped out, and deliver even better performances. And wouldn’t that be good to see?

Lucas Leiva                 Joined: May 2007                   Appearances: 214

lucas

Now Lucas is an interesting case. The tremendous mental strength he displayed to plough through the tough early years of his Anfield career is highly commendable, and even frequently used as an example if a fan should appear to swiftly dismiss a fringe player. Like Agger, the bond with the fans is strong; they call him ‘The Boss’, you know.

At the same time, I’m a little worried about his injury issues. I think next season might be best spent with him just concentrating on getting back on top form, without the added pressure of a new role within the group. Furthermore, he comes across as a quieter character than the others, and in that way is perhaps somewhat too similar to Gerrard.  I’m sure you don’t need reminding that Carragher was a very vocal player and with a squad still chopping and changing as Rodgers continues to build, it might be right if he picked somebody who would naturally continue Carragher’s bellowing activities. If we can help it, we should ensure that we don’t become a quieter team.

Of course, influence isn’t born solely from consistent talking. Take a look at this table that shows the candidates’ respective Premier League records in 2012-13:

Name

Apps

Mins

W

W%

D

D%

L

L%

Pts

PPG

Agger

35

3097

14

40.0

12

34.3

9

25.7

54

1.543

Suarez

33

2953

12

36.4

12

36.4

9

27.3

48

1.455

Reina

31

2790

14

45.2

9

29.0

8

25.8

51

1.645

Lucas

26

1942

13

50.0

7

26.9

6

23.1

46

1.769

Albeit with numbers drawn from a smaller data sample, Lucas enjoyed a superior winning percentage and points-per-game rate to that of Reina, Agger or Suarez. Indeed, the Brazilian’s reappearance in December coincided with a substantial uptick in form. Over the first 14 games of the season, during which he was absent for all but the opening two fixtures, Liverpool pulled in just 1.14 points-per-game. After his return, this tally rose significantly to 1.88 points-per-game. To put this in context, 1.14 PPG over a season equates to about 43 points, whereas 1.88 PPG comes to a much healthier total of 71 points.

 

It would of course be overly simplistic to attribute this improvement solely to Lucas (with Coutinho and Sturridge’s contributions also playing a large part), but the facts show that the team enjoyed more success with Liverpool’s number 21 on the pitch. Rodgers is a smart guy, and I’m sure he’ll be aware of this trend. It could well prove a key factor in his decision making process.

Luis Suarez                       Joined: January 2011              Appearances: 96

Luis Suarez

And then of course we have El Pistolero himself, the enigmatic Luis Suarez. I would probably position him as the outside bet of the four, although he’s certainly no slouch when you look at the facts.

Last season he hit the back of the net on 30 occasions, only the second man to do so since the glory days of Robbie Fowler in 1996-97. Fernando Torres was the other player when he struck 33 times in 2007-08. Suarez has regularly set the standard since his arrival, drowning in ‘Standard Chartered Player of the Month’ awards. He also featured in this season’s PFA Team of the Year. He has captained his old club Ajax as well as his national team, and barely a single conversation about him passes without mention of his phenomenal will to win and relentless never-say-die attitude. These are exactly the kind of traits that Rodgers is looking for in his new recruits. In this way, he is surely an example to follow.

Considering the overwhelming attention he already gets and the safer options available, however, I think I’d settle for leaving him out of this one. Although responsibility hasn’t inhibited him elsewhere, it might be best to simply allow Luis Suarez to continue frightening defences with full freedom.

So what are we saying?

Ultimately it’s down to Brendan Rodgers to decide who should fill Jamie Carragher’s boots as the vice captain of Liverpool Football Club. With a wealth of suitable candidates, it will be interesting to see which way he goes. Will he opt for Reina’s winning experience, Agger’s fierce allegiance, Lucas’ positive impact or perhaps Suarez’s standard-setting heroics?

Personally, I think any one of the four would be a fine choice. That said, if you pushed me to pick just one, I’d hand it over to Daniel Agger. It’s always nice to have real authority at the back, he has international experience as a captain, is an exponent of Rodgers’ style of play, has shown fantastic loyalty and is a brilliant presence all around. And how about those tattoos? How many vice captains have a Viking graveyard on their back? I’m guessing not many although, I will confess, I haven’t surveyed them all.

The transfer window could also have a say in the matter, should any of the above depart. But as it stands it appears to be a four-way race and, although I have my favourite, I’m delighted to say that I genuinely won’t be disappointed if any of the candidates discussed here take the honour into next season.

So who will it be, Mr Rodgers? The choice is yours…

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