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Roy Keane, Vincent Kompany, John Terry: The top 10 Premier League captains ever

The top 10 captains in Premier League history
© Reuters
Following Vincent Kompany's decision to leave Manchester City, Sports Mole looks at where he ranks among the greatest captains in Premier League history.

If Vincent Kompany's place in Premier League history was not secure before this season, it certainly is now.

The Belgian played a bit-part role for the majority of the 2018-19 campaign, but came in when it mattered and was integral to getting Manchester City over the line as they became the first team to retain the title in a decade.

FA Cup glory a week later secured an unprecedented domestic treble for Pep Guardiola's side, and that proved to be Kompany's final game for the club as he announced his departure on Sunday.

Reactions quickly changed from initial surprise to adulation for the man who had overseen Man City's transformation from 'the other team in Manchester' to the dominant force in English football.

There is no doubt that Kompany can be mentioned in the same breath as the greatest captains the Premier League has ever seen, and here Sports Mole selects its top 10 skippers from the competition's history.

10. Eric Cantona (Manchester United)

Eric Cantona lifts the Premier League trophy in 1994© Reuters

As 13-time winners of the Premier League, United naturally offer more captaincy options than any other club in this countdown. Only three of those make the cut, though, and Eric Cantona edges out fellow alumni such as Gary Neville, Nemanja Vidic and Bryan Robson in this list.

The gifted Frenchman only had the armband for one season at Old Trafford before retiring from football at the age of just 30, but he led United to the title in 1996-97 to make it four Premier League crowns in five years with the club.

While many of the figures on this list are either dynamic midfielders or battle-heartened centre-backs, Cantona led by example through his effortless skill and mercurial talent.

Perhaps the best example of that was his memorable chip against Sunderland in December 1996, when he reacted to a stunning goal by simply standing still and soaking up the Old Trafford adulation, complete with captain's armband.

9. Wes Morgan (Leicester City)

Leicester City's Wes Morgan lifts the Premier League trophy in May 2016© Reuters

The greatest story in Premier League history - perhaps even sporting history as a whole - remains Leicester's remarkable charge to the title in 2015-16, when they overcame 5,000-1 odds to become the ultimate underdogs.

Tipped as much more likely to suffer relegation than even finish in the top half before the campaign began, the Foxes launched an incredible run of form to finish 10 points clear at the top of the table, losing just three games all season.

The likes of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and N'Golo Kante made their reputation on the success, but captain Wes Morgan was just as important to the against-all-odds triumph in what was only his second season as a top-flight player.

Morgan played every minute of the campaign - only the third player to do that and win the title - and fittingly it was his equaliser against Manchester United in May that helped Leicester over the line the following day due to results elsewhere.

8. Alan Shearer (Newcastle United)

Alan Shearer pictured in 2006© Reuters

One of only two players in this list not to have lifted the Premier League trophy as captain, Alan Shearer was not only the competition's greatest ever goalscorer but also one of the greatest leaders it has ever seen.

Handed the armband at his boyhood club Newcastle in 1998, Shearer went on to lead the team for eight seasons and secured Champions League football for the Magpies in 2002-03 and 2003-04.

No player has come close to matching the former England captain's tally of 260 goals in the Premier League, 112 of which came with Blackburn Rovers before his world-record switch to St James' Park.

It was during his time at Ewood Park that Shearer claimed the only major team honour of his career, helping Blackburn to win the Premier League title in 1994-95.

7. Steve Bruce (Manchester United)

Steve Bruce in 1994© Reuters

A common theme with the selections in this list is their ability to pop up with crucial moments in a title race, and Bruce did exactly that during the inaugural Premier League campaign with two late goals to beat Sheffield Wednesday - a brace which set United on course to dominate English football for the next 20 years.

Bruce's main job was to stop goals going in at the other end, of course, but he was a major presence in either box and was a foundation block for Sir Alex Ferguson's United during the early stages of the Premier League.

The centre-back stood in for injured club captain Bryan Robson for much of the first two seasons in the Premier League as United won back-to-back titles, and then inherited the armband for good to lead the club to another crown in 1995-96.

Bruce also helped United to two FA Cups as skipper, becoming the first Englishman to captain a club to the Double in the 20th century, before leaving the Red Devils for Birmingham City in 1996.

6. Patrick Vieira (Arsenal)

Patrick Vieira lifts the Premier League trophy in 2004© Reuters

Now we are really into the iconic leaders of the Premier League era, and Patrick Vieira still holds the distinction of being the only man to lead a team to an unbeaten campaign in the competition.

Arsenal's 'Invincibles' of 2003-04 cemented their place in English football history, and Vieira weighed in with goals at crucial moments - one in a draw which ensured Arsenal regained the title and another on the final day of the season as they protected their unbeaten record.

The Frenchman only misses out on the top five because he held the armband for just three seasons, with most of his good work coming before he was named captain by manager Arsene Wenger.

Vieira's battles with Manchester United - and in particular Roy Keane - provide some of the most defining memories of the Premier League, and his importance is perhaps best shown by the fact that the Gunners are still yet to truly replace him 14 years after his exit.

5. Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

Steven Gerrard pictured in 2014© Reuters

In terms of leadership, quality and importance to his team, Steven Gerrard could easily top this list. However, the one major aspect missing from his resume is getting his hands on that Premier League trophy.

Every other player in the top 10 has won the trophy at least once - as captain or not - but Gerrard infamously missed out on Liverpool's holy grail despite his heroics in leading the Reds to glory in the Champions League and the FA Cup in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

The former England captain came closest in 2008-09 and 2013-14, the latter of which ended in heartbreaking fashion, but ultimately fell short of completing his Liverpool trophy cabinet.

It speaks volumes for his ability that he still makes the top five despite having never won the Premier League, though, and had it not been for Gerrard then Liverpool may not have established themselves as one of the constant challengers for Champions League football - yet alone won Europe's premier club competition.

No player has been named in the PFA Team of the Year more often than Gerrard's tally of eight, while he was also named PFA Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year during his 12 years as captain.

4. Tony Adams (Arsenal)

Tony Adams pictured in 2002© Reuters

When it comes to longevity, few captains can rival Arsenal legend Tony Adams - a one-club man who owns the unique distinction of being the only player to captain a title-winning team in three different decades.

Two of those triumphs came in the Premier League era - and were accompanied by the FA Cup to complete the Double - as Arsenal threatened Manchester United's dominance by lifting the title in 1998 and 2002.

Adams had already held the Arsenal armband for four years before the Premier League even began, taking up the role aged just 21 and holding it until his retirement in 2002 - a reign of more than 14 years.

Unsurprisingly, the former centre-back is the club's most successful ever captain, and his services to the Gunners saw him honoured with a statue outside the Emirates Stadium.

3. Vincent Kompany (Manchester City)

Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany lifts the 2018-19 Premier League trophy© Reuters

Firmly in amongst the Premier League immortals now, Vincent Kompany battled through injury and some fierce competition for places to remain a key player for Manchester City throughout his 11-year stay at the Etihad Stadium.

Even when playing a bit-part role, Kompany's importance to the club has always shone through, although there is no doubt that he would have liked to have made more than 59 Premier League appearances over the past four seasons.

The Belgian has made those appearances count, though; Guardiola called on his skipper to start the final four games of the 2018-19 run-in as Man City narrowly held off Liverpool, but even he would not have been expecting the thunderbolt which saw City past Leicester in April - a goal which will reverberate throughout the annals of Premier League history.

Indeed, Kompany has developed something of a knack for popping up with a crucial goal, memorably netting in what felt like a winner-takes-all Manchester derby en route to the 2011-12 title and also scoring on the final day of the 2013-14 season, when City again pipped Liverpool to top spot.

Voted Premier League Player of the Season in 2012, Kompany has personified Man City's emergence into one of the world's leading teams and leaves the club this summer as not only a club legend, but a Premier League one too.

2. Roy Keane (Manchester United)

Roy Keane pictured in 2004© Reuters

If there was one player Manchester United fans could bring back into their team right now, it might well be Roy Keane.

Forget the brilliance of Best, the razzmatazz of Ronaldo or the creativity of Cantona - Keane was exactly the type of leader and driving force that the current crop of underperforming players need.

The outspoken Irishman has had his say on that matter, of course, but no-one would like to see United return to the glory days more than him, and he oversaw the very best of them.

Given the armband after Cantona's retirement in 1997, by the time he was moved on eight years later he had become - and remains - United's most decorated captain in their illustrious history.

Keane's battles with Vieira are the stuff of Premier League legend and only our number one pick has ever lifted the trophy more often as a captain, with Keane's United being crowned champions of England in 1999 - as part of the treble - 2000, 2001 and 2003.

An FWA and PFA Player of the Year in 2000, the midfielder's controversial nature eventually saw his United career come to an ignominious end when he fell out with manager Sir Alex Ferguson over comments he made about his own teammates to the club's in-house TV channel.

1. John Terry (Chelsea)

John Terry lifts the Premier League trophy in 2017© Reuters

The Premier League's most successful ever skipper with an unprecedented five titles as captain, John Terry - to an even greater extent than Kompany - oversaw a huge transformation at his club but remained a pillar of importance throughout.

Promoted to the senior team in 1998, Terry was already a Chelsea regular before Roman Abramovich bought the club and changed English football forever, and Jose Mourinho's decision to appoint him as captain upon his own arrival in 2004 proved to be a masterstroke.

In his first season with the armband Terry led Chelsea to their first title in 50 years, as well as posting the best defensive record in English top-flight history and keeping more clean sheets than any other side has managed before or since.

Chelsea went on to defend their title a year later before also winning it in 2010, 2015 and 2017, the latter of which proved to be Terry's final season at Stamford Bridge.

A PFA Player of the Year in 2005, the former England skipper developed a reputation as the most fearless of defenders and was also a huge threat in the opposition box, scoring a Premier League-record 41 goals from the back.

Countless more talented players than Terry have graced the Premier League down the years, but there has been none better as a leader and it was his stabilising presence which was arguably the biggest reason behind Chelsea's sustained success over the past 15 years despite a huge turnover of managers and players.


Who is the Premier League's greatest captain?

John Terry
Roy Keane
Vincent Kompany
Tony Adams
Steven Gerrard
Patrick Vieira
Steve Bruce
Alan Shearer
Wes Morgan
Eric Cantona
John Terry
Roy Keane
Vincent Kompany
Tony Adams
Steven Gerrard
Patrick Vieira
Steve Bruce
Alan Shearer
Wes Morgan
Eric Cantona
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rhs 2.0
2Manchester CityMan City382639102356781
3Manchester UnitedMan Utd381812866363066
5Leicester CityLeicester381881267412662
6Tottenham HotspurSpurs3816111161471459
7Wolverhampton WanderersWolves381514951401159
9Sheffield UnitedSheff Utd381412123939054
13Newcastle UnitedNewcastle381111163858-2044
14Crystal Palace381110173150-1943
15Brighton & Hove AlbionBrighton38914153954-1541
16West Ham UnitedWest Ham38109194962-1339
17Aston Villa3898214167-2635
RNorwich CityNorwich3856272675-4921

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