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The start of the Cricket World Cup has highlighted the fundamental role of the captain in sport. Eoin Morgan has suggested that his performance with the bat is currently so poor, the fact he is the captain (arguably the greatest captain in the world) might not be enough to keep him in the team. In cricket, of course, the captain is the tactical brain on the field, the person who decides when and where and how a team will go about its work. In football, they are simply the leader. A role model, motivator, supporter and protector.

I’ve grown up with some incredible Sunderland captains – Paul Bracewell, Gary Bennett, Kevin Ball for example. All incredible leaders. Not always the best player on the pitch but all leaders, respected by the team and showing his team mates the work level expected of anyone pulling on a Sunderland shirt.

This season we have a leadership team. And no captain. No one seems to be leading the team or the squad. In fact, in the last few games the only effect the arm band seems to have had was to worsen the performance of the player wearing it.

Against Charlton we needed a player to keep heads calm, to speak to the referee, to encourage team mates and, sadly, we saw McGeady drift, O’Nien look inexperienced and pre-occupied by his own game (admittedly against a League One thug) and Flanagan toddler stamping at every (dreadful) decision. Kevin Ball would have… actually, forget that. Max Power or Grant Leadbitter would have kept going and lead by example. As I said before, not necessarily the best players in the team, but leaders.

There will be times this season when everything goes to plan and we’ll comfortably humiliate the opposition but there’ll be times when we need everything to work just to drag ourselves across the line. And a big part of that is a captain. A leadership team is something you have in the civil service, not in professional football. Yes, have a vice captain, have two if you like, but have a captain who will lead the team out on a Saturday.

The question then is who. Evans and Wright seem to lack the physical fitness to keep their place in the team each week but their experience could prove vital in helping as vice captains, especially helping out in the off field responsibilities. But, for me, there’s an obvious choice and he currently has a 100% record as Sunderland captain…

I’m looking for someone who never seems to dip in intensity, someone who the manager picks week in and week out, who speaks up on the pitch, motivates and encourages all around him and is constantly having an impact on the game. I’m going for Dan Neil. If, as a club, we’re looking to bring more and more players through from the academy, trying to build a first team for the next two to three years that will have a spine throughout it that doesn’t change, Neil has everything we’re looking for.

Of course, the decision is not mine. It’s for Lee Johnson to pick his captain. I just wish he’d be decisive and rather than placate and please half the squad with made up job titles, pick a captain to lead us through the tough times, hopefully leading to May and lifting the trophy (or trophies) in the good times. Give him the arm band and let’s get back to winning ways.

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