Top 20 Greatest Leaders in Sports History

Regardless of ability or technical prowess, almost all great teams require a leader or a number of players possessing leadership skills. This list is reserved only for on-field leaders, those who were leaders and players simultaneously. That means great leaders who were coaches or managers, like Sir Alex Ferguson or Vince Lombardi are not included.

There is no set of attributes or specific style which makes a great leader or captain of a sports team. Some are disciplinarians, who are often very vocal and make their feelings abundantly clear to their teammates. Others lead by example, which is often why the best or one of the better players in a team is made captain. These figures see no need to rant and rave, preferring to take more of a back seat role.

Both styles can be equally effective, or an approach somewhere in between, essentially it is down to the individual and the team. Generally speaking attributes such as experience, decision making and the ability to motivate the players around them whilst maintaining discipline are considered the most necessary qualities to make a great leader.

They may not necessarily be the star players on their respective teams, but when they speak everybody listens. When they do something, people take notice. A coach can only do so much for his players, but when you have one peer that you can most relate to and respect, that can do wonders for a team.

Here are the top 20 greatest leaders in sports history:

20 Kevin Youkilis


19 Jonathan Toews

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Good luck trying to find someone that can argue there's a better captain in the NHL today. Jonathan Toews has led his Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups in six seasons, building the modern version of a dynasty. Captain Serious is as reliable as they come, and whether he has to speak to his teammates or lead by his performance on the ice, Toews has already made himself an icon in Chicago. Don't be surprised if he's higher on lists like these by the time his career's over.

18 Douglas Jardine


17 Diego Maradona

David Cannon/Allsport

16 Maurice Richard


15 Tim Duncan

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

14 Peyton Manning

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

13 Martin Johnson

Mark Pain /

12 Tom Brady

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

11 Kobe Bryant

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

10 Roy Keane


9 Jean Beliveau

Mac Juster, Montreal Star

Jean Beliveau certainly fell into that category of leaders who led by example but weren't particularly vocal. He captained the Montreal Canadiens for a decade - from 1961 to 1971 - in which time they won five championships. His overall playing career spanned 21 years, before he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame a year after his retirement. He won 10 Stanley Cup's as a player and a further 7 as an executive, as well as being a two-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner as MVP.

8 Michael Jordan


7 Bobby Moore


6 Mark Messier


5 Ray Lewis

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

4 Ricky Ponting


3 Derek Jeter

William Perlman/NJ Advance Media for via USA TODAY Sports

2 Steve Yzerman


1 Franz Beckenbauer


The greatest leader in all of sports history has to be one Franz Beckenbauer. Nicknamed 'Der Kaiser' ('The Emperor') by the German people, Beckenbauer was a born leader, and a born soccer player. He was a revolutionary of the game, inventing the sweeper or libero position. He was named Bayern Munich captain at the age of 23 and West Germany captain at 24, after playing on with a dislocated shoulder in the 1970 World Cup, showing his incredible desire, determination and will to win.

As a captain, Beckenbauer won every trophy on offer at club and international level. At club level he won five Bundesliga titles, four DFB-Pokals, three European Cups, one Cup Winners Cup, three NASL titles and one Trans-Atlantic Cup. With West Germany, he won both the World Cup and the European Championship's as captain and individually, he won the Ballon d'Or twice and was named in the FIFA World Team of the Twentieth Century.

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Top 20 Greatest Leaders in Sports History