Ryan Shawcross: O Captain! My Captain!

With Darren Fletcher being touted to take the armband from Ryan Shawcross, David Cowlishaw argues against Ryan being replaced as skipper.

I love Ryan Shawcross. What red and white blooded Stoke fan doesn’t? He’s been with us for nearly ten years, helped us win promotion, established himself as a top class Premier League defender, become captain, captained us at Wembley and gradually earned his place among our finest ever players. Even four years ago, he was named in Stoke’s Greatest Ever XI.

We all know this of course, but I mention it purely to remember that we are talking about a club legend when we talk about removing the armband from him. The eagerness with which some fans have called for other players to become captain, and the haste with which an even smaller minority have dismissed Ryan’s future at Stoke, has been in my view rather poor. But, perhaps I am being over sentimental when I say I want Ryan to remain as captain?

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Ryan Shawcross is the captain, and he’s a good one. For starters, I don’t buy the notion he is lacking in the leadership department. Talk to his team-mates and former team-mates and they will tell you what they think of his qualities. I suspect it is because Ryan isn’t a Terryesque ranter and raver, who tries to referee the game, that many see him as being too shy or timid on the pitch. I completely disagree. Leadership isn’t measured in decibels.

I judge captains on their ability to translate the manager’s tactics to the pitch, and the ability to set an example. In both these regards, I think Shawcross is magnificent. Of course, the inconsistency in Hughes’ tactics last season did nobody any favours, and I think the general uncertainty that surrounds Stoke defensively led to a lot of fingers being pointed at our number 17. I have seen nothing to suggest that Ryan Shawcross isn’t an example for other players to follow. We don’t need a guy who shouts his head off (not that Ryan doesn’t shout).

I think Shawcross’ captaincy is being called into question because of our recent struggles on the pitch. When all was fine and dandy, nobody dared question his status as captain. Furthermore, you have to think about what stripping Ryan of the armband would actually do to the dressing room. Ryan is long-established as the leader in the dressing room, and would our longer-serving players take kindly to such a dishonourable discharge? What’s more, to suggest taking away the captaincy would I think be a poor way to treat such an important part of our recent history. Even if you felt absolutely certain that there needed to be a change of the on-field captain, Ryan would have to remain as club captain, as to remove him completely would not only potentially damage squad harmony, but perhaps have a devastating effect on the player, too.

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Darren Fletcher seems to be the leading candidate touted to repace Ryan and for all Fletcher’s many qualities, I like to think you earn the right to become a club captain. He’s just arrived, and there is nothing to suggest he needs an armband in order to allow other players to benefit from his years of experience and wisdom. I’m sure he was an influence at Old Trafford without being captain. In addition, he is 33 and so appointing him wouldn’t exactly smack of a long-term solution.

Other candidates? Vice-captain Whelan may be on his way soon, and there aren’t many obvious names that leap out from the team sheet, though I would tentatively suggest Jack Butland could develop into captain material and I would be open to making Jack vice-captain this season.

If we think we should remove Ryan because we don’t feel he is performing on the pitch, that’s another issue and one unrelated to whether he should be captain. If he needs to be dropped, or if Zouma/Martins Indi would be your preferred centre half pairing for next season, then that is something for Sparky to consider. However, I don’t think underperforming in a struggling Stoke side warrants removal from a position he has earned and excelled in. If Shawcross is on the bench, by all means give Fletcher the armband, but as long as he’s able to play effectively for us in the top flight, it’s Ryan’s.

Ryan Shawcross has been a credit to the Stoke shirt, and has worn the armband with pride every single time he’s stepped out onto the pitch. He is our captain, now and for the forseeable future.

Now, I’m off to stand on a desk.

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