SAM Reid must wonder what he did wrong. The former Bulldog is the only player with previous AFL experience on Greater Western Sydney's list who has not been named as some sort of leader at the new club. The other nine are either captains, or coaches, or both, or at least members of that must-have body at any modern football club, the leadership group. GWS is on course to become the first club to finish the season with more leaders than premiership points.
One report yesterday described GWS's three-captain arrangement as ''innovative'' and the balance of the leadership group as ''significant''. In fact, the author would not have needed to look outside Sydney to see that co-captaincy has been with us for some time. In 2005, three Swans had to play a quick round of scissors-paper-rock to decide who would accept the premiership cup. Perhaps a little to the club's retrospective regret, Barry Hall won. As for the ''significant'' leadership group, what else might it be? Incidental? Random? Irrelevant?
Perhaps it is all of the above, grouped under an important sounding title, like leaders. The leadership group is the most ethereal concept in modern football. Some consist of as few as three, others as many as eight. In 2007, Carlton had 11, including Bryce Gibbs, who had not played a game, and Brendan Fevola, and at the head of the group, Lance Whitnall. That worked well.
It was simpler that year to list who was not in Carlton's leadership group; they were the rump out in the cold, like Reid. The next year, Chris Judd arrived, and all leadership issues were redundant.
For significant people, leaders are disturbingly dispensable, and leadership groups perversely fluid, swelling and shrinking constantly as clubs commission and de-commission. Brad Green was captain of Melbourne last year, but not even in the leadership group this year. Brent Moloney went from the Demons' leadership group to the doghouse in one fuzzy night, and remains there. Two 20-year-olds have replaced Green.
Dane Swan, who won last year's Brownlow Medal, is not in Collingwood's leadership group. Heath Shaw, who was suspended for betting, is. So is Travis Cloke, who this week was booked for driving while disqualified. These are some of many. The criteria for membership of a leadership group differ from club to club, and season to season, and circumstance to circumstance. It is a wonder no club has yet appointed a leadership group co-ordinator.
Clubs say that it doesn't really matter, that every senior player is a leader. So do players. The same might be said of captaincy. Great ceremony attends the appointment, great grandeur attaches to it, much rhetoric surrounds it. Clearly, a good one (with the emphasis on one) can make a difference, and clearly, he does not have to be the best player. Think Tom Harley and Nick Maxwell, captains of three of the last five premierships.
But the captain occupies an oddly hybrid position: more than a figurehead, less than a commander. He leads by attitude and example, but not absolute authority. Otherwise, Melbourne would not so readily appoint two 20-year-olds to the role, nor GWS two 21-year-olds. Think for a moment: even though the off-season merry-go-round has only just stopped spinning, is there a club whose coach you cannot name? Now, how many clubs' captains can you name (one at any one club will do)?
The coach heads a coaching group, but accepts responsibility. The captain heads a leadership group, which diffuses responsibility. Once appointed, you only ever hear of a leadership group when it sits in collective, but faceless judgment on a miscreant player. The most humiliating experience in the game now is to have to ''face the leadership group''. Best to join it. Most do, sooner or later.