Offside, 6 July
Sol Campbell's decision to stay in the English Premiership is great news for Arsenal, but bad for Campbell.
Sol Campbell’s decision to stay in the English Premiership is great news for Arsenal, but a regressive step for the player.
Much has been made of Campbell’s wage demands. Barcelona and Inter Milan were said to have offered to make him the highest paid player in the world. Even the European champions Bayern Munich were reportedly unable to meet his personal terms.
No surprise, then, that the ‘money-is-the-root-of-all-evil’ contingent saw Campbell as an exemplar of the footballing mercenary (presumably the rot set in when the maximum wage was abolished in 1961, thanks to sub-comandante Jimmy Hill). Former Tottenham hero Jimmy Greaves branded Campbell ‘a greedy, average performer’, while Spurs vice-chairman David Buchler called his wage demands ‘ridiculous’ and ‘obscene’. UEFA, European football’s governing body, has even talked about the need to introduce a salary cap.
But in the end money was not the deciding factor. ‘I could have earned more money by going abroad, but I felt this was the place to be’, said Campbell. With only a Worthington Cup winner’s medal to his name, you can’t blame Sol for wanting away. Spurs are not a big team, whatever their deluded followers believe. They are still lunching out on the fact that they won the double 40 years ago. Glenn Hoddle’s policy of buying pensioners perfectly illustrates the poverty of their ambitions and their resources.
Sol had to leave Spurs for the sake of his career, but was he right to become a Gooner? ‘I was very keen to stay in the Premiership’, he explained. ‘Sven Goran Eriksson, the England coach, is here and the majority of games he sees are here in England.’
This sounds unconvincing to me. Does a first-choice England centre-half really need to stay in London to keep his place in the team? Even if he went abroad, there is no reason to believe that he would have been overlooked by Eriksson who, after all, has travelled to Spain to watch Steve McManaman. It may also have escaped Sol’s notice that Primera Liga and Serie A games are now televised in Britain.
I suspect that Sol opted for Arsenal because he’s just a homeboy at heart, and didn’t fancy moving abroad. He is said to have asked Barcelona for a clause in his contract which allowed him to return to London two to three days each month, and for the club to pay for the plane tickets – in effect, ‘homesickness leave’.
Whatever his motivation, Campbell’s decision to stay in the Premiership is ultimately ill-advised because it limits his development as a player. England’s top flight may have dragged itself out of the dark ages of ‘percentage’ football, but the Italian and Spanish leagues are, in my opinion, still superior in technical and tactical terms. Just as Steve McManaman is a far better player for spending two years at Real Madrid, Campbell’s defensive game would have improved after a spell abroad. Moreover, in Spain or Italy, where defenders are expected to do more than hoof the ball down the channels, Campbell would have learnt to distribute the ball better.
It certainly takes some courage to defect to your arch-rivals and run the gauntlet of vitriolic abuse that will surely follow. However, it takes even more guts to test your ability as a footballer by playing in a more demanding league. From a footballing perspective, Sol Campbell has taken the easy option.
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