Article · 8-minute read

Euro 2024 Captains – What are their Leadership Styles?

By Lauren Jeffery-Smith – 28th June 2024

With the Euros back on our screens, it seems like a good time for this football-loving Wave® enthusiast to take another look at how our Wave framework can be applied to the players of the beautiful game. This time, I wanted to focus on the leadership styles of the captains. Captaining your country is a huge honor, but it is not an easy task. It often involves uniting players who may be rivals during the regular season and may also be captains themselves at club level.

So, with a bit of help from The Guardian, I have determined the leadership styles that could be used to describe and understand the 24 different captains. 

Within our Wave Leadership Impact model, there are 18 leadership styles, which sit under nine Leadership Impact areas, which in turn are arranged under 3 Ps of leadership:

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Professional

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People

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Pioneering

As an England fan, I’m going to have to start with our captain, Harry Kane. His goal scoring ability is indisputable, scoring 44 goals in 45 games in his first season at Bayern Munich. His awareness and competitiveness as a player suggest his leadership style is likely to relate to being a Strategic Opportunist. He’s also shown that he’s a team player, which suggests he also prioritizes being a Collaborator (his player role aligned with the Supporter role in our Work Roles model). He’s willing to do whatever the manager asks of him, even if this means taking corners like under Roy Hodgson’s management. This may lead to a risk of being too Obliging, in this case, not challenging the manager on this questionable tactical decision. This is something that can be seen on the pitch as well, where he has tended to be less willing to challenge the referee in the early games of the tournament – this could be even more critical in this Euros where only the captain is allowed to approach the referee.

The hosts, Germany, have not been at their best over the last few years, but playing at home is likely to give them a boost. Their captain, Ilkay Gündogan, has had a very successful club career, and while he has not replicated this level of success at international level, he was named captain in September last year. Like Kane, his focus seems to be more on the team than asserting himself as the leader, suggesting he is another Collaborator – “I rarely shine myself – the goals are usually scored by others. For me, the best thing is when the ball circulates smoothly in the team.” He also gives the team order and balance, and is responsible for risk management, demonstrating the Regulator leadership style. This style could have unintended consequences in terms of a risk of being Procedural – he may find it more difficult to play in formations that are not system-based with disciplined positioning (like he was used to at Manchester City).

Álvaro Morata is captaining Spain and is seen as a surprising choice by some. He has had an extensive club career and demonstrated the attributes of a Crisis Handler, scoring goals in crucial matches and demonstrating leadership qualities following Spain’s exit from the 2022 World Cup. He has also demonstrated versatility, adapting to different tactical formations, suggesting he could act as a Change Agent in the squad. The risk for Morata is that he is Unpredictable, as his form can fluctuate.

Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modrić is synonymous with Croatian football and has been captain since 2016, leading them to the final of the 2018 World Cup and semi-finals in 2022. They haven’t had quite as much luck at the Euros and this isn’t going to be their year either. Modrić’s initial development was self-lead, practicing for hours at a refugee hotel rather than being taught at an academy. This indicates a strong motivation for learning and development, linked to the Intellectual leadership style. He has been described as a silent leader whose leadership comes from within, suggesting an Expert Advisor style who leads by example with self-assurance.

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma captains Italy. His ability to keep his cool in goal, particularly during penalty shootouts (unfortunately for England) indicates a Crisis Handler leadership style. The Crisis Handler style is also demonstrated by Virgil Van Dijk, the Netherlands captain, who is reported as saying “You have to step on to the pitch without fear”. He has also been a Growth Seeker, overcoming setbacks in his career and being willing to challenge others – “You cannot always be nice if you want to achieve everything with a team”.

France’s superstar Kylian Mbappé has recently picked up the captaining reins from Hugo Lloris. He has shown that he can be a Catalyst by being the player that makes the difference and Crisis Handler, shouldering the burden of being decisive and now of playing with a broken nose.

Kevin De Bruyne recently became captain of a Belgium team which has fallen short of expectations over the last few years. He leads the team as an Innovator, finding spaces behind defences with his crosses. He generally remains decisive and composed, indicating the Crisis Handler style. This was evident when the pressure was on after they lost the first game of the Euros, as he convincingly led his team to victory in their second game against Romania. He has, however, previously shown a risk of becoming Unpredictable at times when his composure drops and he becomes openly irritated.

Cristiano Ronaldo captains Portugal in his record sixth Euros tournament. His determination to work the hardest and drive to be the best identify him as a Growth Seeker. He is also often a Catalyst on the pitch, due to his ability to create chances and be at the centre of things. There are certainly times when he can overplay these strengths though, so there are a couple of risks that come to mind when thinking about Ronaldo. He does not conform and usually does what he thinks is best for him, which can be Disruptive and contributed to his early exit from his second stint at Manchester United. There is also the risk of being overly Expressive if he is commanding all of the attention and making things about his own contributions and achievements. While this can help take the heat off others when things are not going so well, it can more generally make the rest of the team feel forgotten and like their efforts are not noticed or appreciated.

Captain Leadership Styles for all countries involved in the Euros 2024 group stage:

Group A

GERMANY: Ilkay Gündogan - Midfielder

Collaborator (Successful Teams)

“I rarely shine myself – the goals are usually scored by others. For me, the best thing is when the ball circulates smoothly in the team.”

Regulator (Managed Risk)

Gives the team order and balance and responsible for risk management

HUNGARY: Dominik Szoboszlai - Midfielder

Catalyst (New Products/Markets)

Team revolves around him

Innovator (New Products/Markets)

He builds and ends attacks

SCOTLAND: Andrew Robertson - Defender

Administrator (Service & Product Delivery)

Maintained football output when his career wasn’t progressing

SWITZERLAND: Granit Xhaka - Midfielder

Consulter (Communication)

Communicates and executes the manager’s vision

Group B

ALBANIA: Etrit Berisha - Goalkeeper

Change Agent (Organizational Transformation)

Adaptable – takes penalties

Crisis Handler (Organizational Transformation)

Keeps his cool in goal

CROATIA: Luka Modrić - Midfielder

Intellectual (Expert Reputation)

Largely self-taught

Expert Advisor (Expert Reputation)

Confident player who leads by example

ITALY: Gianluigi Donnarumma - Goalkeeper

Crisis Handler (Organizational Transformation)

Keeps his cool in goal, particularly during penalty shootouts

SPAIN: Álvaro Morata - Forward

Crisis Handler (Organizational Transformation)

Delivers when it matters – scores in crucial matches

Change Agent (Organizational Transformation)

Adapts to different tactical setups

Group C

DENMARK: Simon Kjær - Defender

Persuader (Communication)

Described as an outspoken elder statesman

Facilitator (Organizational Commitment)

Dealt empathetically with the situation when Eriksen collapsed at the previous Euros

ENGLAND: Harry Kane - Forward

Strategic Opportunist (Organizational Growth)

Prolific goal scorer

Collaborator (Successful Teams)

Willing to do whatever is asked of him

SERBIA: Dusan Tadic - Forward

Crisis Handler (Organizational Transformation)

Able to deal calmly with situations ranging from multiple defenders to crowds storming the pitch

SLOVENIA: Jan Oblak - Goalkeeper

Expert Advisor (Expert Reputation)

Confident in goal and leads by example

Group D

AUSTRIA: Marko Arnautovic* - Forward

Strategic Opportunist (Organizational Growth)

Has scored the most goals in the squad and demonstrates entrepreneurial spirit (pun intended – he has his own alcohol brand) outside of football

FRANCE: Kylian Mbappé - Forward

Crisis Handler (Organizational Transformation)

Has dealt with the pressure of expectation at such a young age and risen to the challenge of being the captain

Catalyst (New Products/Markets)

Often the player that makes the most difference and has the biggest impact on the game

NETHERLANDS: Virgil Van Dijk - Defender

Growth Seeker (Organizational Growth)

Has overcome setbacks in his career, willing to challenge others

Crisis Handler (Organizational Transformation)

“You have to step on to the pitch without fear”

POLAND: Robert Lewandowski - Forward

Expert Advisor (Expert Reputation)

Leads by example

Strategic Opportunist (Organizational Growth)

Competitive, continues to play at the highest level at 35

*Regular captain David Alaba is injured but travelled as a non-playing captain. Marcel Sabitzer captained Austria for the first game of the Euros, but Arnautovic took up the armband for games two and three, which they both started.

Group E

BELGIUM: Kevin De Bruyne - Midfielder

Innovator (New Products/Markets)

Finds space behind defences with his crosses

Crisis Handler (Organizational Transformation)

Generally decisive and composed

ROMANIA: Nicolae Stanciu - Midfielder

Change Agent (Organizational Transformation) Can play on either side, playmaker with good vision

SLOVAKIA: Milan Skriniar - Defender

Coordinator (Service & Product Delivery)

Directs the defence

Administrator (Service & Product Delivery)

Strong work ethic

UKRAINE: Oleksandr Zinchenko - Midfielder

Collaborator (Successful Teams)

Directing play from midfield

Facilitator (Organizational Commitment)

Raising awareness and money for Ukraine

Group F

CZECHIA: Tomas Soucek - Midfielder

Enthusiast (Organizational Commitment)

Keeps a positive and professional morale in the squad

GEORGIA: Guram Kashia - Defender

Facilitator (Organizational Commitment)

Promotes and defends equality

PORTUGAL: Cristiano Ronaldo - Forward

Catalyst (New Products/Markets)

Ability to create chances and be at the centre of things

Growth Seeker (Organizational Growth)

Drive to be the best

TÜRKIYE: Hakan Calhanoglu - Midfielder

Inspirer (Successful Teams)

Dictates the tempo of the game

The 24 captains display the majority of the leadership styles from the Leadership Impact model, with most appearing one to three times. Far and away the most represented is Crisis Handler. This makes conceptual sense as international captains need to deal with huge amounts of pressure and football games can be incredibly unpredictable.

I have always found it interesting to consider how the position a captain plays in can affect their leadership style and ability. Traditionally, defenders have most commonly been captains, as they tend to have more oversight of the whole pitch and are best placed to communicate across the team (in 2016, centre-back was still the most common captain’s position). That is not the case for captains in this Euros tournament though, where midfielders are the most common captains, followed by forwards, then defenders and finally goalkeepers.

Are certain leadership styles more linked to certain positions?

Going into this, I had a vague hypothesis that defenders would be more likely to display Professional leadership styles, midfielders might be more People oriented and forwards would be more Pioneering. For defenders and midfielders, there is a mix of the three overarching styles, with slightly more People for both. The clearest trend is in the forwards where, as I expected, Pioneering is far and away most common (with no People styles). Of course, this may be a self-fulfilling prophecy as I am the one assigning them a style which is based on a mixture of my experiences watching them and how they are described in the media, however it does raise an interesting consideration around the type of leadership that forwards tend to offer. In teams where a rallying and unifying voice is needed, a midfielder may be more suitable to take on the role of captain. But in teams with existing high levels of cohesion, a brilliant striker may provide the role model needed to push individuals to develop their own skills. There is also the wider consideration of how the captain’s style complements the manager’s leadership style.

Strong leadership is essential for any team to succeed – in business or in sport. Leadership, as we know, is a skillset in itself – it’s not just about being the best player on the team. While there are consistent attributes which can contribute to providing better leadership, there are different ways of being a great leader and different teams will need different types of leadership. Understanding the styles of leaders – what they are likely to offer, where they may have misguided strengths which lead to risks and where they are less strong – provides a basis for understanding what the team needs to perform at their best.

So which kind of leadership will be victorious at Euro 2024? I can’t wait to find out!

About the Author

Lauren Jeffery-Smith

Lauren is the Wave Portfolio Manager at Saville Assessment and has over a decade of experience developing assessment solutions. She is a Manchester United and England fan.

You can connect with Lauren on LinkedIn here

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