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George Honeyman: Captain, Leader, Scapegoat?

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“Honeyman will never be universally respected by the Sunderland fans, and indeed, his long-term future at the club might always be the subject of speculation. Club captains, however, aren’t chosen via Twitter” writes Phil West.

Danny Roberts

In the midst of the current speculation about the club’s comings and goings, the issue of communication between the club and the fans, and whether Jack Ross remains the right man for the job, the question of captaincy has been somewhat overlooked.

Nevertheless, now we know the answer. It will be George Honeyman for a second successive season. The local lad will wear the armband as we attempt to right the wrongs and achieve promotion at the end of what will be another hard season.

As with most announcements the club make these days, this news has not been universally well-received. The tweets have appeared in a steady stream, many seemingly incredulous that Ross has decided to persist with a man who, for reasons that remain unclear, is one of the most polarising figures the club has seen in recent years.

Few players in the recent history of the club have received such vicious criticism as Honeyman did last season, and fewer still have been made such a regular scapegoat and the poster boy for the team’s shortcomings.

For the majority of the season and particularly during the final months, Honeyman found himself in the eye of the storm. Phrases such as, ‘worst captain in our history’ were thrown around on Twitter with abandon, as some fans vented their anger and embarrassment at the club not being promoted. Yet, in my opinion, not only was this wildly overblown but it was desperately unfair on a player who has nothing but the club’s best interests at heart.

South Shields v Sunderland: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

For years, we bemoaned the fact that we had too many players on the books who simply didn’t care, who viewed Sunderland as nothing more than a guarantee of a fat cheque and Premier League football. In Honeyman, however, we have a player who is the exact opposite of that. He’s no mercenary and he understands what this club is about.

Is that enough on its own? Perhaps not, but that doesn’t mean he should be pilloried and labelled as an utterly useless so-and-so.

Honeyman is the kind of player that pundits like to describe as ‘industrious’. He ‘puts himself about’ and ‘will put in a shift’, as they say. His ability as a footballer is limited, without question, and question marks remain over the position to which he is best suited.

I think that he is nowhere near as bad a footballer as the naysayers would have us believe, however, and he will undoubtedly be one of the central figures during the 2019/2020 season. Where he will fit into the team, and how his role might change if we successfully sign a ‘genuine number 10’, however, will be an interesting puzzle.

There were plenty of times last season when the now-departed Lee Cattermole gave off the impression of being the team’s true captain and leader, simply because of his iron will and his determination to win. In contrast, Honeyman was always slightly more reserved, and not as ferocious. With Cattermole gone, however, and Grant Leadbitter left as the only real outfield alternative as captain, the upcoming season will be Honeyman’s chance to step up.

Charlton Athletic v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-off Final Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If Jack Ross has learnt from his experiences as manager during his debut season, it is reasonable to assume that Honeyman has done exactly the same. He’ll know the areas in which he must improve, and he’ll understand that the scrutiny will continue.

In my opinion, Honeyman should not concern himself with winning the doubters over. That is a battle that, unless he suddenly morphs into a world-beater, he won’t be able to win. He will be best served by leading the team to the best of his ability, helped by those around him, and trying to drive the club towards its ultimate goal of promotion. Results and performances will keep the fans onside, and that is all he needs to concern himself with.

Honeyman will never be universally respected by the Sunderland fans, and indeed, his long-term future at the club might always be the subject of speculation. Club captains, however, aren’t chosen via Twitter. Ross has stuck by his man, the decision has been made, the armband has been assigned, and another issue has been addressed and put to bed.