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What Makes A Captain?

By Brian Maurer

Image courtesy of Charlotte FC

Christian Fuchs is the captain for the Charlotte FC inaugural season. This should come as no surprise as he has been a part of, and captained, other big time teams and successes. “I’m impressed with Charlotte FC’s vision for building a successful team, this is an extraordinary opportunity…I look forward to starting from day one to help make Charlotte FC a winning club,” Fuchs told Charlotte FC’s content team when he signed with the club. Fuchs brings winning credentials, professional experience, and a leadership presence to Charlotte. How do these attributes describe Fuchs as a captain compared to other inaugural season captains?

Image courtesy of Leicester City FC

Winning Credentials

The best way to see a player’s ability to lead others and compete at a high level is to see what they have won. Fuchs has shown an ability to be a leader for teams enroute to victory. He was an important defensive presence at fullback during Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title run. Fuchs also captained the Austrian national team that qualified for the 2016 Euros.

While the total number of trophies in Fuchs’ collection may appear limited, it is the nature of the victorious moments in Fuchs’ playing career that are so impressive. Being a mainstay in Leicester City’s defense during their Premier League run is an emphatic moment on his resume. Leading Austria to qualify for the 2016 Euros is another historic feat as it was the first time Austria ever qualified for the tournament* from successful performances. These examples demonstrate Fuchs’ winning ability when odds are stacked against him and his teammates. A gritty, determined leader for an expansion club, whose odds are stacked against them.

Professional Experience

The total number of appearances, as well as the variety of competitions a player has participated in help demonstrate the experience of a player. This is important for a captain, as the more experiences a leader has, the more information that player has to pull from when presented with new difficulties. The more prepared a player is in unfamiliar or difficult situations, the more likely they are to handle those situations well. Preparedness can be derived from previous experiences in victory and defeat on and off the pitch. Experience on the pitch is something Fuchs has in droves.

Fuchs has over 350 starts in first tier league competition¹. Over 250 of which have come in either the German Bundesliga or English Premier League²; two of the best competitions in the world. Fuchs also has 41 starts for the Austrian national team in competitive matches³. Many of those starts also included the responsibility of the captain’s armband. He also has had 35 starts in European club competition⁴ (in both Europa and Champions League). In total, Fuchs has well over 400 starts at some of the highest levels of football. That amount of experience has been a massive boost to Charlotte FC’s defense. It can also make him an excellent teacher for many of the youngsters on the team like Jaylin Lindsey, Ben Bender, Adam Armour, Christian Makoun, and Jan Sobocinski.

Image courtesy of Charlotte FC

Leadership Presence

A third way to look at how valuable a player is to a team is to look at the impact of a player’s presence on the team’s performance. For example, João Paulo is out for the season for the Seattle Sounders. He is a talented midfielder, and when his presence is missing the Sounders struggle as a team. In fact, the Sounders record when Paulo is not a starter is 1-1-5**. A small sample size, but for a team as strong as the Sounders are, this missing presence has looked potentially resounding. For a player like Fuchs, comparing his previous teams’ defensive stats with him versus without him is one good way to see how his presence can impact a team.

A notable season that pops out for Fuchs is the year Leicester City went on to win the Premier League. Fuchs did not start for the first seven matches, and eight in total. In those eight matches, Leicester City gave up 18 goals. In the 30 matches that Fuchs did start, Leicester City only gave up 18 goals. Fuchs’ presence can be understood to be a factor as he became a regular starter for the Leicester City defense, and their defense quickly improved. This is not saying that Fuchs was the sole reason for the Leicester City defensive improvement, but that his presence was a key involvement in its success. Fuchs’ presence is capable of enhancing a defensive unit and providing the support needed for that unit to achieve monumental success. This is the hope for Charlotte FC fans throughout their inaugural season.

Other Expansion Captains

When looking at Fuchs’ quality and experiences compared to other expansion teams’ inaugural season captains two initial differences stick out. First, seven of the last ten expansion teams’ captains had previous MLS experience. However, of the three that did not have previous MLS experience, two had a substantial amount of extremely high level footballing experience in Europe (Kaká and David Villa). Second, the average age of the last ten expansion team captains in the inaugural season was 31.2. Fuchs is several years older. However, this probably should not be looked into too deeply as almost all the captains are past their primes. The value of the captain is to be an experienced coach on the field, which requires lots of time played, and this requires a player to be older.

Even if that experienced presence is there for an expansion club, it can still take some time for the team to succeed on the pitch. Only three of the past ten expansion teams made the playoffs their inaugural season. However, six of those ten teams made the playoffs in their second season (this is assuming Austin FC ends up making the playoffs). So, this suggests that while the building blocks can be put in place, sometimes it can just take an extra year or so for the final results to materialize.

Not having a solidified foundation in the locker room, and especially in the role of captain, does seem to be a primary reason why an expansion club does not start off well, or make the playoffs within the first couple seasons. Kendall Waston and Francisco Calvo were both limited in experience when they were given the captain’s armband for their clubs, and paid the price with slower starts to their expansion campaigns. The outlier is Kaká who has an exorbitant amount of high level experience, but was still unable to lead Orlando City to the playoffs in either of their first two seasons. The issues that have plagued Inter Miami also go way beyond anything a captain would be able to solve.

Charlotte FC Has Their Decorated General

Fuchs is one of the more experienced players to captain an expansion team in recent years. His presence has had an impact at the very highest level of the footballing world. Providing the strong foundation to a new club that will be needed in order for Charlotte FC to find early success in the MLS. His impact and competitive spirit will provide Charlotte fans with strong performances now, and his influence will be a cultural contagion of success for our young players looking to rise through the ranks. These traits were highlighted specifically by Leicester City, “Fuchs has put in consistently strong and reliable performances when called upon in recent campaigns and has also played a vital role in the development of younger players in the squad”. While Black and Blue fans will be singing Fuchs’ praises for his defensive performances this season; it will be important to remember the experiences and teachings he will have provided younger players who will embody his presence for many seasons to come. The cultural foundation of competing and winning will be Fuchs’ great achievement for Charlotte FC.

* Austria played in the 2008 Euros. They did not have to qualify that year, as they were the host nation.

**Since Paulo’s injury the Sounders are 3-0-2 in the MLS this season.

¹²³⁴ All appearance stats were from