The Top 5: World Cup Winning Captains

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Sir Bobby Moore at England’s highest moment

The lofty magical heights of 1970 had seemed an eternal distance away. Yet, it was 24 years later that Brazil managed to win the World Cup again.

At the World Cup in USA however, Brazil were far from the fluid, sublime, artistic magicians who had touched the sky at the Azteca. In fact, even the team that had not won the World Cup in 1982 had carried with it more flair. Instead, it was the hard grit and determination of a Brazilian side, organised to defend while letting the attacking lights of Bebeto and Romario shine that clinched the World Cup on that sunny day in Carlifonia.

Still, that the final was decided by penalty shootouts means that it in effect ranks as Brazil’s worst ever World Cup win. The hardened mentality however seemed to reflect the image of Dunga. Brazil’s captain was not a flair player, but a no-nonsense tough battler. In 1994, Brazil won the World Cup by battling rather than by ultimately dazzling.

Sometimes, that is the reality of a football team. That for all its defining characteristics, it is the natural character of the captain that stands out.

But then, the unquantifiable nature of a captain’s influence makes it exactingly difficult a phenomenon to assess. While Dunga’s determination seeped out to the rest of his team, there is no denying that a bit of luck allowed Brazil to become world champions in 1994.

In a tournament as open as to allow Bulgaria and Sweden to reach the semi-finals, and where Arrigo Sacchi’s Italy failed to find that final fluency in the final points a lot at Brazil — and Dunga’s — stroke of fortune. Had Franco Baresi for example not missed his penalty, and had Roberto Baggio not skied his, it would probably have been Baresi lifting the World Cup with Baggio having been acknowledged as the world’s marquee footballer.

Instead, fate would not follow that course. But that is a simplistic manner of dismissing Dunga’s capabilities. All that matters is that eventually, he guided Brazil to a World Cup win.

He and 18 other footballers hold that prestigious honour of guiding their nations to World Cup triumph. To thus rank a top 5 from that list is a daunting task.

Context and circumstances however mean that not all can be judged on the same pedestal. For example, the lack of real documentation means that it is difficult to judge Jose Nassazi’s influence in the inaugural World Cup in 1930.

Similarly, the obvious political influence by Benito Mussolini in the 1934 World Cup does somewhat negate Gianpiero Combi’s influence. The same applies to Daniel Passarella, who’s Argentine World Cup winning team of 1978 will forever be held in doubt as to the influence exerted by then Argentina’s president, Jorge Rafael Videla.

Daniel Pasarella, 1978 World Cup Winning Captain
Daniel Pasarella, 1978 World Cup Winning Captain

At the same time, how to rank Giuseppe Meazza’s influence in an Italy united by a core of Juventus players? Or Fritz Walter’s captaincy in a team which despite upsetting Hungary were forever dogged by accusations of doping?

With such a restrictive number of five to choose from, we thus have to choose the five whom we think did their expansive best. That despite everything else surrounding the team, their ultimate ability was enough to ensure that the team was able to dart over the finish line.

For this, there are some notable exclusions. Sir Bobby Moore and Lothar Mathaeus miss out while Dino Zoff’s reliability in goal could not assure him a place on our list. Didier Deschamps on the other hand would have appeared, but his unifying factor over a potentially ethnic laden France is replaced by the unifying presence of Iker Casillas over a region-tensioned Spain.

And while all of Brazil’s five World Cup winning captains would have probably made this list, only one is considered. The one whom we felt hardest done by omission is Hilderaldo Bellini. Leading Brazil to their maiden triumph in 1958, the composed, slender center back was leader of a team that composed the wondrous talents of Pele, Garrincha and Nilton Santos.

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Bellini lifts the trophy high to begin a tradition

Yet, it is the image of him lifting the Jules Rimet trophy over his shoulders — on the insistence of Brazilian photographers who wanted a clearer shot of the trophy — that will live on in eternity. That gesture became the symbol of triumph. Lifting the trophy with such bravado is a tradition that came by chance.

The men on this list however did not rely on chance. And before lifting the World Cup trophy, they had lifted their teams that many levels higher.

5. Iker Casillas

Uniting a region-tensioned Spain and maintaining his concentration despite being in a team obsessed with posession, Casillas is the only goalkeeper on this list. Despite being Real Madrid captain, World Cup in South Africa where he was Spain’s captain was his shining moment….

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4. Franz Beckenbauer

The only man to have won the World Cup as both captain** and later on as manager. The ‘Kaiser’ also holds the record of having won the European Cup and the World Cup in the same year. If conquering Europe with Bayern Munich was not enough, Beckenbauer went on to conquer the world with West Germany …

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3. Carlos Alberto Torres

Still the most aesthetic team to have won the World Cup. A year after man had walked on the moon, Brazil touched the sky with their display at the 1970 World Cup. Carlos Alberto was captain. He was also a marauding full back whom continued a very Brazilian tradition of attacking right backs. Some captains are merely motivational — Carlos Alberto was also talented…

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2. Obdulio Varela

A day Uruguay will never forget. A day also that Brazil consider a national tragedy. In front of a packed Maracana crowd, Brazil expected to win the World Cup. What happened so drained a country and so shocked their psyche, they reformed to ensure it would never happen again. And yet, the domineering presence of Obdulio Varela, the Uruguay captain is usually forgotten…

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1. Diego Maradona

Ridiculous talent, outrageous personality, the will to do as he pleases and the skills to dominate any game. Diego Maradona was so good that he could elevate an otherwise average team to world class status. In fact, at the 1986 World Cup, that is exactly what he did…

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**This post has been edited as it originally read that Franz Beckenbauer was the only player to have won the World Cup as both player as well as manager. That is not true, as Brazil’s Mario Zagallo also holds that distinction. Beckenbauer however is the only man to have captained and later on managed a World Cup winning squad and the post now reflects that. 
[images courtesy of imortais do futebol]
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