As we approach the sharp end of the season, and as Manchester United gird themselves for one final push in the league and in Europe, one man is conspicuous by his absence: Wayne Rooney.
Manchester United's captain is, apparently, injured. But even if he weren't, United's captain probably wouldn't be in United's first team. He might not even be making the squad. And come the summer time, he might not even be a Manchester United player any more.
So, who's next? Who will be granted entrance into the exclusive pantheon of United captains? It's an illustrious company, including Charlie Roberts, Bill Foulkes, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane and Gary Neville. A company any footballer would be proud to join. We take a look at the runners and riders …
Well, as captain against Chelsea, he's got a 100% record in what was a fairly tricky game. He has seniority on his side. And as Wayne Rooney has proved this season, not playing much football is absolutely no impediment to being club captain.
You laugh, but it makes a lot of sense. He's unfailingly committed; he's possessed of a relentless positivity, even with all his many set backs; he's got a face that children find alternately delightful and scary … oh, wait. Sorry. Those are the notes for "United's next mascot". Ahem.
It might be a little early for Bailly, who is still in his first season at the club and has plenty of development ahead of him. But if he keeps playing, and keeps getting better, than he's going to get the armband at some point. And as fully paid up members of the Eric Bailly is Great Society, TBB fully endorses this inevitability.
David de Gea
Because nothing says "please, David, don't leave us" like a ceremonial piece of elastic and the chance to lead the team out on matchdays. (Please, David. Don't leave us.)
Seems to be the obvious choice. Football has its rules, and then it has many more unwritten rules beyond those. One of these states that, as a general principle, the captaincy should always be given to the most senior central defender or central midfielder. This is because full backs are boring, wingers are too flighty, and strikers have enough to be worrying about. Goalkeepers are acceptable only in extremis or if they're really old.
While the thought of "Phil Jones (c)" or "Eric Bailly (c)" are deeply pleasing in different ways — "Marcos Rojo (c)"! — the most compelling case comes from Ander Herrera, who has spent this season basically doing the job anyway. He runs, he scraps, he falls over, he yelps, he points, he gestures, he throws his hands up in despair at the incompetence of officials … and he also plays pretty well, most of the time.
He may lack the quiet dignity of Roy Keane or the cool head of Eric Cantona, but if a Jose Mourinho captain is to be anything other than ceremonial, it should probably be the onfield avatar of Rui Faria. Apart from anything else, he really, really annoys everybody that doesn't want Manchester United to win. Always a pleasant attribute to indulge.
As Sun Tzu wrote in the Art of War: "Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak." And what screams weakness more than a team led out by a footballer whose greatest attribute is his chest control. Though it is, admittedly, quite wonderful chest control. The man's got a torso as welcoming and forgiving as a velvet chaise-longue.
It would cause outraged spluttering throughout the country — "Captain?! How much?! Another haircut?! How much?!" — and tBB hopes we can all get behind that.
Where cricket captains are expected to make tactical and technical decisions throughout the day, and rugby captains are sycophantic lickspittles who exist only to tug the forelock towards the referee — sorry, "Sir" — footballing captaincy is essentially a performance. It's found in consistent onfield excellence, but also in clapped hands and beaten chests, in stern words and patted backs.
So who better for the job than Antonio Valencia. The Ecuadorian fulfils the basic requirements of being first choice in his position and playing well every week, but he also has what we think might be the most effective motivational tool in football today. His stare.
Just imagine the situation. Marcus Rashford is brutally hacked down in the box. The referee thinks, just for a second, about not giving the decision, but then he catches Valencia's eye …
… and Valencia stares …
… and Valencia stares …
… and Valencia stares …
… and a single tear rolls down the referee's cheek, as he gives the penalty. And Valencia nods.
Perhaps it's time we moved beyond the dusty traditions that have held football back all these years. Why should a club captain actually have to play for the team he leads? Let Rooney head off to China, or Los Angeles, or Everton, but keep him on the club's books for the sponsor work. That way United get to take advantage of his compelling personal brand, without having to pretend that it's his ankle keeping him out of the squad.
"Official Captaincy Partner of Manchester United." It just makes sense.