Lee Wallace: Captain Fantastic?

Lee Wallace

With the time until our next competitive match suddenly increasing by an unexpected amount, the Rangers fans are filling gaps with debates verging on madness. Rumours of players being poor in training, of the board now doubting the manager, asking why we haven’t heard anything from Mark Allen yet – we’re all getting just a bit too anxious for our own good.

One debate that’s raged on for a while though is the one discussing the merits of Lee Wallace as club captain. Some feel he’s not at all suitable for the role. Others have no problem with him there at all. This article is going to present a defence of our left-back as captain, which will be far more than just “he’s captain, that’s that.”

To begin, let’s define what makes a player a good captain. On the pitch, you’re looking for someone who others will turn to naturally when looking for guidance. They should be strong enough to ensure that the manager’s instructions are what the players are looking to carry out, whilst also able to adapt that if the game isn’t going your way. Someone who will demand high standards but be able to find the way to bring them out in others without just resorting to criticism.

Off the field, you’re really just looking for a bit of dignity and intelligence. They will not only represent the player’s interests in terms of negotiating bonuses and the likes, but they’ll often be front and centre when it comes to media and charity work. If they can answer questions without sounding like they’re reading from a script, and they’re not prone to making headlines that you don’t want, they’re doing fine in that regard.

So what are the criticisms aimed at Wallace as captain? By far the biggest is the idea that he’s “too quiet”. Due to not being noticeably vocal when it comes to demanding more from the players, he’s accused of not being a good leader. In my opinion, that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of leadership styles. You don’t have to be screaming in someone’s face to get the best out of them every single time. Leaders can inspire in a variety of ways, and these days the image of players being shouted at by the big centre-half with the armband on is rare at best. Footballers are far less likely to respond to that now.

A further problem with this criticism is how it’s made from afar. The most interesting thing to come of our coverage of the closed-door games was the ability to hear the players talking to each other. Wallace was far more demanding than many credit him for. Without being able to see or hear what he’s offering in terms of leadership and guidance, many are making judgements based on little evidence.

We’ll often be told he’s “no Butcher, Gough or Ferguson”, the sort of captains many seem to believe were perfect at the time. Older fans will be quick to point out that none of them were a John Greig. All of this points to one of the biggest issues with the judgement of footballers which has existed seemingly forever – the misty-eyed, nonsense idea that everything was better in the past.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Butcher, Gough, Ferguson, and Greig were better players in their prime than Wallace. That’s not really the point, though, or it shouldn’t be. As above, we have criteria to meet on and off the pitch, and in many ways, Wallace meets them more than some of our best captains. Terry Butcher was a great player and leader, but he had a couple of incidents off the field which were pretty stupid and didn’t paint us in a great light. Barry Ferguson will absolutely regret his actions over the years, and on the park, he wasn’t very good at adapting his style of leadership so as to allow the players who needed an arm around them to shine. Lorenzo Amoruso, one of my favourite ever Rangers players, was involved in the incident with Ikpeba at Dortmund where he used a racist insult in the heat of the moment. All of these things are the sort of stuff Wallace hasn’t been involved in, and you’d be pretty confident he never will be. So maybe he isn’t a Gough or a Greig – can anyone point me to players who are?

I’m of the opinion that the role of the captain in British football is focused on just a bit too much. If a footballer needs a manager and a captain to inspire him to his best, he’s not someone you can count on to be a winner. At Rangers, over the past couple of seasons, we’ve only had Wallace and Miller to look to for that self-motivation and ability to lead. The hope would that be that players like Alves, Jack and Dorrans will help to take the burden away from them and allow them to concentrate a bit more on their own game. Not every player has to be vocal, aggressive or “captain material”, but they certainly need to be able to self-motivate and take responsibility. You can’t just blame a captain for the rest of the squad not doing that.

On the park, Wallace is able to take responsibility for himself and others and will demand more without stifling teammates or being overly critical. Off the field, he’s articulate, passionate and hard-working. He’s a great ambassador for the club. The more cynical amongst the support will suggest he only stayed with us when we dropped down the divisions because he had no better offers. Even if that’s true, he made a choice which held back his career in a footballing sense, denying him Scotland caps and better recognition for his ability. He’s worn the armband with pride and given us his best years, and we owe him far more than accusations of being a weak leader or only having the armband out of sentiment. This is a player and man who deserves the captaincy of Rangers.

Do you agree with the above? Tweet us your thoughts @rangersnewsuk and we’ll be happy to discuss!