Soccer’s greatest leaders from Messi to Marta

We know who the best captains are Super Heroes: Captain America and Captain Marvel, obviously. But what about in soccer? The armband has special significance in the game: It’s about leadership, honor, talent and responsibility. To mark the release of Marvel Studios’ “Captain Marvel,” which hits theaters Friday, we teamed up with the comic giant Marvel to turn soccer’s six best captains into Super Heroes.

Lionel Messi
Captain: Barcelona and Argentina
Defining quality: Omnipotent all-around abilities

It’s unfair to compare Messi to Thanos. After all, one is a hero and the other, well, he’s the Mad Titan. But the Barcelona captain is just as all-powerful and destructive on the pitch. Instead of snapping his fingers to wreak havoc, Messi lets his game — his feet tethered to the ball, the preternatural dribbling, the ability to score in tight spaces and from distance — speak for him. Then there’s the rabble left in his wake, of course, like when Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng famously folded like origami as Messi dribbled past him to score in the 2014 Champions League semifinal. (Word is they’re still trying to scrape Boateng off the pitch). And that’s the ultimate irony with Lionel Messi: He has conquered the sport, but you sense he still doesn’t know the boundaries of his powers. Scary thought, isn’t it?

Megan Rapinoe
Captain: USWNT
Defining quality: Fearlessness, on and off the pitch

Leaders take a stand when it matters most, or in the case of Rapinoe, a knee. The co-captain of the U.S. women’s national team was, along with Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, one of the first pro athletes outside of the NFL to support Colin Kaepernick. “I did a lot of self-reflecting — I think I had to,” says Rapinoe, who has also been a public advocate for LGBTQ rights and pay equality. “I know that I wanted to be more of a leader on this team. I still stand very firmly behind kneeling and what all of that means … and I still stand very firmly behind Colin Kaepernick.” That was two years ago. Rapinoe continues to add to her highlight reel-worthy CV that includes the 2015 Women’s World Cup and the 2011 ESPY for Best Player of the Year, a campaign during which she hit that cross to Abby Wambach against Brazil. She’s also the ambassador of NGO streetfootballworld, a network of 130 football-based community organizations in 80 countries, and became the first female player, along with Morgan, to pledge a percentage of her salary to the collective social impact movement, Common Goal.

Sergio Ramos
Captain: Real Madrid
Defining quality: Mr. Clutch

You don’t think of goals when you’re talking about centre-backs, but it’s different with Ramos. He has scored 59 times in La Liga and 11 in the Champions League since 2005. It’s not just quantity, either. Merriam-Webster should put his picture next to the definition of “clutch.” There are too many goals to recount here, but his most memorable remains the header against Atletico Madrid to force extra time in the 2014 Champions League final. Ramos’ origin story started at Sevilla under Pablo Blanco. “He was basically a striker when he came to us,” Blanco told AS. “He always wants to win.” That attitude comes at a cost: Ramos has been carded more than 200 times and sent off on 25 occasions, but Real Madrid supporters wouldn’t have it any other way. And he made it through 2018 without a single red, too. Miracles can happen.

Daniele De Rossi
Captain: Roma
Defining quality: Loyalty

De Rossi was once known as “Captain Future,” the player anointed to lead Roma after Francesco Totti left. Of course, Totti stayed around for a little while (1992 to 2017, to be exact), after which point De Rossi finally put on the armband at age 34. These days the box-to-box midfielder is a dying breed, but in his prime, De Rossi embodied all the key attributes of a complete midfielder: vision, anticipation, strength on and off the ball, goal scoring and, of course, the ability to land a reducer when needed — something he commemorates with a hazard/warning sign tattooed on his leg. Having played his entire senior career at Roma, a run that stretches back to 2001 and includes plenty of thick and thin, De Rossi is the rarest of footballers in these transfer-mad, mega money and mercenary times: He’s a one-club man.

Captain: Brazil National Team
Defining quality: Pure self-confidence

Marta Vieira da Silva embodies Brazilian footballing excellence. She has scored more international goals (110) than Pele (95) did during his career, and the gifted forward also holds the record for most goals (15) in Women’s World Cup history. What’s more, she’s one goal behind the all-time scorer, Miroslav Klose, a fact that will likely change at this summer’s Women’s World Cup. When asked what superpower she’d want, she told ESPN, “I’d spread gender equality around the world. [It] comes with respect, empowerment — with everything that is necessary to understand that we as human beings are capable of everything.” Spoken like a true captain.

Vincent Kompany
Captain: Manchester City
Defining quality: Quintessential leader

It has been 10 years since Kompany signed with Manchester City — he’s the only player still at the club since the Abu Dhabi group took over ownership — and while injuries have kept him off the pitch, he remains one of the leaders, and the soul, of the club. At the Etihad, Kompany evolved into one of the best defenders in the game. Goals, sliding tackles, speaking out to refs and media, saves off the line: He has it all in his toolbox, admittedly with the odd rash challenge thrown in the mix. Kompany captained the side that beat Manchester United in the 2010-11 FA Cup semifinals as they went on to win their first piece of hardware in 35 years, and led the team to its first Premier League title in 44 years, in 2012. “He’s something special,” his manager Pep Guardiola said. Adds teammate Kevin De Bruyne: He’s “a legend for the club.”

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