It is the subject which obsesses supporters and tests Nigel Clough’s patience almost as much as errant referees, writes James Shield.
So, in an attempt to prevent the captaincy issue from overshadowing Sheffield United’s bid to preserve their League One status next term, the South Yorkshire club’s manager has outlined why Michael Doyle, and not another member of his squad, is charged with the responsibility of leading the South Yorkshire club.
Doyle, Clough admitted ahead of Saturday’s derby against Bradford City, is unlikely to win any popularity contests on the terraces at Bramall Lane. But inside the dressing room, the former England international revealed, he commands the respect of team mates and coaching staff alike.
“Michael is an important figure here,” Clough said. “He’s got experience and a very professional attitude to his job.
“That’s one of the reasons why, perhaps, he also performs to a consistent level. We know what we are going to get from Michael pretty much game in, game out, which for a manager is a nice good quality to have.”
While Doyle is admittedly not the most stylish of performers, the enduring nature of the debate surrounding his suitability for the role is surprising given that four managers, all with different characters and tactical beliefs, have awarded the 32-year-old the armband since his arrival from Coventry City four seasons ago.
Acknowledging Doyle’s contribution extends beyond the dressing room, Clough said: “Michael might not win many awards, because he might not create many goals, but the job he does for us out there is crucial and he does it well.
“He breaks up attacks, even just by getting a toe in sometimes to knock away the ball, but his reading of the game allows him to be in the right place at the right time. Then, he’ll give that simple little short pass which gets us going forward and, although some people might not realise it, often those are the most difficult ones to get right.”
Having emphasised the important of discipline since taking charge of United in October - “We don’t want people collecting cards willy nilly” - the fact Doyle, a notoriously fierce competitor both on matchdays and during the week, has been cautioned only 20 times and sent-off once in 152 appearances will not have been lost on Clough as he looks to trim the size of United’s squad.
“We need to be competitive but in the right way,” he warned earlier this term. “Not in a manner whereby it impacts upon the team because we need players to be available.”