An XI of the most valuable captains in world football ft. Messi, Odegaard & Fernandes | OneFootball

An XI of the most valuable captains in world football ft. Messi, Odegaard & Fernandes | OneFootball

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·21 September 2023

An XI of the most valuable captains in world football ft. Messi, Odegaard & Fernandes

Article image:An XI of the most valuable captains in world football ft. Messi, Odegaard & Fernandes


  • Matvey Safonov, the captain of Krasnodar, may not be one of the world's best goalkeepers, but his leadership at just 24 years old is impressive.
  • Reece James, the Chelsea right-back and captain, has a high market value due to his talent, but his fitness record raises concerns.
  • Martin Odegaard's mix of skill and temperament make him a perfect leader for Arsenal, and his high transfer value reflects his importance to the team.

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It's always a contentious topic in football: who wears the captain's armband and do they deserve it? Some players just seem like natural fits for the role – Lewis Dunk amongst all the youngsters at Brighton right now for instance. While others seem to fall into the position before quickly losing the responsibility – William Gallas at Arsenal springs to mind.

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And it is sometimes hard to gauge just how important it actually is to have the right person wearing the armband. But at the very least, symbolically, you always want to feel as though you have an ideal figurehead representing your team. And of course, that doesn't necessarily mean they have to be the best player, and certainly not the most expensive squad member. But along that line of thinking, it certainly would be interesting to know who the most valuable captains are in football right now for each position. With data taken from Transfermarkt (via Reddit), we've managed to compile the dream team of leaders below.

In terms of ranking the best goalkeepers in the world, Safonov would fall far behind the likes of Thibaut Courtois, Alisson Becker, Marc-André ter Stegen and others of that ilk But what separates Safonov from those, is that he wears the captain's armband for Russian outfit Krasnodar.

Impressively, he does so while still aged just 24 years of age. That makes more sense when you realise that the young shot-stopper has already played 155 times for his club, having come through the youth academy. At just £13.9m, his value pales in comparison to Porto's Diogo Costa – who is ranked as the joint-most valuable goalkeeper in the world at €45m (£39m). In the past, Hugo Lloris may have taken this crown, but he lost the armband to Son Heung-min this summer.

Right-back - Reece James - €65m (£56.4m)

Moving to a more familiar name, we have James who was made Chelsea captain shortly after the arrival of new manager Mauricio Pochettino. Still only 23, the Englishman has already won the Champions League and it's not hard to see why he has such a high value in the market.

However, he has only been able to wear the armband once this season, with a hamstring issue keeping him out since the first game of the Premier League season. There can be no doubting James' talent, but his fitness record certainly leaves much to be desired...

Centre-back - Marquinhos - €65m (£56.4m)

Having joined Paris Saint-Germain in 2013, Marquinhos has been in France for over a decade now. In that time, he has played 412 games, winning Ligue 1 on eight different occasions. He has been captain since 2020, taking over from Thiago Silva.

Still only 29 years of age, there have been few better defenders in Europe in the past ten years but like all of those at PSG, their domestic domination will continue to feel somewhat hollow until they finally win a Champions League title. Perhaps the Brazilian will be the man to at least lead his club to glory on that front.

Centre-back - Virgil van Dijk - €35m (£30.4m)

Until his summer move to the Saudi Pro League, Jordan Henderson was the Liverpool captain for a number of years. And considering the success the Reds had during the time, and the legacy Steven Gerrard left at Anfield before that, it's fair to say Van Dijk has big shoes to fill.

However, you don't exactly get the sense that this extra responsibility would overwhelm the Dutch centre-back. Having already won the Champions League, Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and Club World Cup as a key member of the team, the 32-year-old defender was a natural pick to be named as the club's next on-field leader.

Left-back - José Gayà - €30 (£26m)

Now 28 years old, Gayà has spent his entire career with Valencia, earning his way into the first team all the way back in 2012. As a youngster in the academy, he actually played up front but has made a name for himself as one of La Liga's best left-backs over the years.

He was handed the captain's armband officially in 2020, having sometimes worn it in the absence of Dani Parejo. His value to the club was highlighted that same year when Gayà was the only player in the squad not put up for sale as Valencia looked to raise money amid the financial fallout from COVID-19.

Centre-mid - Lorenzo Pellegrini - €35m (£30.4m)

When you think of Roma, you can't help but think of Francesco Totti. The Italian striker was the very definition of a one-club player, captaining the Serie A giants for many years. A legacy such as that will be near impossible to replace but in Pellegrini, they at least have another homegrown talent.

The 27-year-old came through the academy before spending a few seasons at Sassuolo. Suitably impressed by his development, Roma exercised a buyback clause in 2017 to bring him home. The midfielder has gone from strength to strength since, and captained his team to glory in the inaugural Europa Conference League final back in 2022.

The captaincy was a big talking point at Manchester United this summer with Harry Maguire losing the armband after falling down the club's pecking order under Erik ten Hag. Fernandes was ultimately handed it but there seems to be some doubt over his suitability for the role.

While his quality in terms of goalscoring a chance-creating can't be doubted – with 65 goals and 56 assists in 191 games at Old Trafford – pundit Chris Sutton doesn't seem to think he's much of a leader. Speaking on the It's All Kicking Off podcast (via Daily Mail), he said: "There must be players better suited like Raphael Varane, Luke Shaw and Casemiro who have better leadership qualities. You wouldn't want to go into the trenches with Bruno Fernandes."

Having emerged as a wunderkind in Norway and signing for Real Madrid as a 16-year-old, it feels as though Odegaard has been around for ages but it's only in recent times that he's really established himself as a top player in Europe. Indeed, still just 24, he now captains Arsenal and looks to be the perfect leader for Mikel Arteta's youthful project.

Suitably, the midfielder bagged a fine goal to mark the Gunners' return to Champions League action this week. It's great to see a player with so much hype finally live up to expectation. And with all the experience under his belt as a younger man, Odegaard appears to have the perfect mix of skill and temperament to be a leader in North London. He has the highest transfer value of all the captains in this team.

Left-wing - Son Heung-min - €50m (£43.3m)

With Harry Kane off to Bayern Munich and Lloris trainining with the squad but having no match-day involvement at Spurs, Ange Postecoglou made the call this summer to hand Son the armband and it appears to have been a good decision so far. After all, Tottenham are unbeaten in the Premier League with four wins and a draw from five.

What's more, after struggling at times last term, the South Korean looks to have found his groove once more with three goals already – he failed to find the back of the net in his first six league matches last season. Giving him that extra responsibility seems to have done Son a world of good.

With Milan Skriniar joining PSG, Marcelo Brozović heading to the Middle East, and Samir Handanovic leaving in the summer as well, Martínez was appointed captain of Inter Milan ahead of the new season. The striker is only 26 but has plenty of experience in Italy, having scored over 100 goals since joining the Serie A team in 2018.

Simone Inzaghi’s decision would have no doubt been influenced by the exits of all those aforementioned key players but Martínez appears to be a good fit as the club's leader now. He has won the league with the club, and completed a cup double in each of the past two seasons. What's more, he also has that World Cup under his belt after Argentina's success in Qatar.

Right-wing - Lionel Messi - €35m (£30.4m)

Messi is arguably the greatest player of all time. And yet, for all his talent, people probably won't really remember him for his leadership skills. At Barcelona, the likes of Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernández always seemed better suited to the role. While the Argentine was an awkward fit at PSG, with Marquinhos wearing the armband anyway.

Still, having now moved to America to enjoy the final years of his career with MLS outfit Inter Miami, it's no shock that Messi was named captain as the league's star player. In fairness, just last winter, he joined legends Daniel Passarella and Diego Maradona as one of only three men to captain Argentina to glory at the World Cup.

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