Arsene Wenger has conceded for the first time he has "no obvious leader" at Arsenal but insists the lack of a vocal, talismanic figure will not prevent his latest team from winning trophies.
The Frenchman, who was speaking at a management conference in Paris, suggested the English place too much importance on the role of a captain and argued that the responsibility of leading a team can be shared by several players just as effectively. He also expressed frustration at the regular criticism he receives for failing to sign a true leader, blaming "cultural differences" for a perceived lack of understanding of his methods.
Many have cited an absence of leadership as the primary factor behind the north London club's failure to secure silverware over the last five seasons, and recent events have only added more credence to the theory.
Wenger's talented side looked rudderless at times while going out of three cup competitions in quick succession. Club captain Cesc Fabregas appeared in just one of those defeats, the 3-1 loss in Barcelona, with Robin van Persie wearing the armband in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham and again at Old Trafford in the FA Cup.
Injuries and rotation have led to Manuel Almunia, Tomas Rosicky, Sébastien Squillaci and Samir Nasri all captaining Arsenal this term. When asked why he changes his skipper so frequently, Wenger, who learnt yesterday that he will be without Abou Diaby for Arsenal's game against West Bromwich today because of a groin injury, admitted his squad is not flushed with natural leaders.
"Sometimes you have to choose by default," he explained. "When nobody stands out as an obvious leader you have to find a group of players who can take on the leadership together. I try hard to make my players understand that the most important thing is the way each one of them behaves on the pitch. It doesn't matter who is wearing the armband."
Wenger's assertion that too much air time is given to the captaincy debate on these shores arrives at the end of a week that has been filled with discussion surrounding John Terry's anticipated return as England captain.
In Wenger's homeland, the identity of the national team captain makes far fewer headlines. "There is a big cultural difference," Wenger added. "For the English, sport is a combat. The English can't imagine going into battle without a general. For the French, football is a form of collective expression."
Upon his arrival in England, Wenger inherited a tremendous captain in Tony Adams, whose fierce determination inspired the Gunners to domestic Doubles in 1998 and 2002. His successor, Patrick Vieira, was also a strong leader. Arsenal, however, have won nothing since Vieira left in 2005.
Questions are now being asked about the suitability of Wenger's latest choice. Fabregas is certainly very different to Adams, but Wenger remains convinced that the presence of a bossy motivator is not a prerequisite for success.