Best England captains at Euro championships: Kane’s Euro 2020 leads the way

England are one of the few European heavyweights not to have won the European Championships. It is a remarkable curse for the birthplace of the beautiful game, and one that needs burying while the likes of Bellingham, Foden and Saka are in such rich form.

It has not been for the want of trying though. England have been at every Euro tournament but one since 1988, while unfailingly reaching the last four Euro editions.

In terms of who wears the armband, England will be led by Harry Kane at this tournament. The Bayern man has been captain since summer 2016, and has a strong claim to be one of the best England captains at Euro championships.

In this article, we’ll see where Kane’s Euro performances as captain rank him among his peers.

England Group C
England's latest attempt to win the Euros begins on 16th June against Serbia – Photo by Icon sport

Best England captains at Euro championships: Our top five

5. David Beckham – Euro 2004

Euro 2004 saw the arrival of Wayne Rooney on the international stage, with the teenager smashing in four goals in the group stage alone. There were other bright moments too, such as Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard’s goals from midfield.

However, for skipper David Beckham, the tournament was not so much fun. The then-Real Madrid man missed a penalty against France that could’ve shored up a 1-0 lead, and then missed another penalty in the 6-5 shootout defeat to Portugal.

That said, Beckham is still seen as an England great, justifying his place on this list.

Beckham missed his crucial spot-kicks – Photo by Icon Sport

4. Bryan Robson – 1988

Euro 1988, on the other hand, was something of a disaster for England. Kicking off against the Republic of Ireland, the English found themselves a goal down within six minutes thanks to an early strike from Ray Houghton.

The match finished 1-0 to the Irish, and is the Three Lions’ only defeat to those neighbours across the Irish Sea in the last 60 years.

After Marco van Basten put the Netherlands 1-0 up in England’s second group game, things looked desperate. But captain Bryan Robson, who was also captain of Manchester United at the time, burst into the penalty area from midfield to equalise early in the second half.

Robson was the only player to leave with any pride intact, however, as van Basten completed his hat-trick. England would also lose their final group game 3-1 to the Soviet Union.

Bryan Robson scored England's equaliser against the Netherlands – Photo by Icon Sport

3. Tony Adams – Euro 1996

When the English think of the Euros, they often think of 1996. Euro ‘96 was the birth of the Euros as we now know it, as it was the first tournament to feature at least 16 teams. It was also England’s first home tournament in 30 years.

England were led by ‘Mr Arsenal’ through their home tournament, as Tony Adams took on the armband and led the line with great pride, having previously battled alcoholism.

England’s back three system, which was controversial at the time, brought the best out of the old-school Adams. It protected him off the ball, as his lack of pace was rarely exposed, and reduced his responsibilities in possession.

It would all end in tears for England though, as the Three Lions were left heartbroken by a 6-5 penalty shootout exit to Germany. But Adams kept his stoic cool, and consoled his weeping teammates in the manner of a true leader.

Tony Adams was one of the first to console now-England manager Gareth Southgate – Photo by Icon Sport

2. Bobby Moore – Euro 1968

Two years after lifting the World Cup, England’s only silverware-winning captain, Bobby Moore, led England to third place at Euro 1968. This tournament was also England’s Euro debut.

After defeating Spain in the quarter finals, England missed out on the final in a closely-fought 1-0 defeat to Yugoslavia. But England recovered well in the third-placed playoff, with a 2-0 win over the Soviet Union.

Moore set off on several of his characteristic marauding runs from central defence, as the Soviet Union afforded the England legend far too much time and space on the ball. 

In the second half, Moore all but set up a goal on his own, as he carried the ball deep into Soviet territory and hit an inch-perfect pass into space for Martin Peters, who only had to square the ball for the onrushing Geoff Hurst.

Bobby Moore was one of the best England captains at Euro championship
Bobby Moore was a fine captain and an even finer player – Photo by Icon Sport

1. Harry Kane – Euro 2020

England came within just a few kicks of their first ever European glory at Euro 2020, as they lost on penalties to Italy at Wembley.

Kane had a slow start to his tournament, failing to score in any of England’s three group games, leading England’s critics at home (there are always plenty of them) to question the captain’s contribution.

But Kane came alive in the knockout stages. First, he sealed a 2-0 win against arch-rivals Germany, authors of England’s Euro 1996 pain, stooping to nod in an 86th minute goal at Wembley, just after the Germans had missed a huge chance of their own.

In the quarter-finals, Kane netted a brace against Ukraine as England ran out 4-0 winners.

Harry Kane led by example at Euro 2020 – Photo by Icon Sport

In the semi-finals, England toiled against a stubborn Denmark side, who led through an incredible Mikkel Damsgaard free kick. The game headed to extra-time, and Kane stepped up to take a 104th minute penalty. 

Uncharacteristically, Kane missed, but rather than being dispirited, the then-Spurs man hammered home the rebound to send England into the final.

England’s star striker was starved of service in the final against a rugged defensive partnership of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.

But when it came to the shootout, Kane led by example, dispatching his penalty with aplomb.

Sadly, Kane’s teammates could not match his cool and quality from the spot.

The England skipper returns to the Euros as his nation’s all-time highest goalscorer, and will hope to lead his squad to go one better in Germany.


William Evans is a football and politics fanatic. A first-class graduate of UEA's Broadcast and Digital Journalism MA course, he also achieved a first class degree in politics and media studies during his time at UEA.