Sulzeer Jeremiah Campbell, was a man who always had big shoes to fill. Literally and figuratively.
He was born the youngest of 12 children in a so-called ‘rough’ neighbourhood where he spent his childhood in the protected confines of his house with football being the only form of release. At an age of 18, after a short stint with West Ham he debuted for Tottenham coming on as substitute for England great Nick Barmby. A daunting task for the youngster from East London.
However, his stint as a striker did not last too long as he eventually settled into the position of central defender and cemented it as his own. Building his career from there, he went on to captain the Tottenham side leading them to a League Cup final victory in the 1998-99 season. Sol went on to captain the national side at age 23, being the second youngest person in history to achieve the feat. However, Tottenham never managed to better their mid table finishes and Campbell’s longing for Champions League football meant he would make a highly controversial, almost frowned upon, move to neighbours Arsenal in 2001.
The Arsenal Era
When he moved to Arsenal, Campbell had a daunting task ahead of him. Partnering Tony Adams arguably the finest Defender to play in the Premier League Era. An intimidating task, even for an accomplished defender like Sol. But if there is one trait that Sol displayed continually throughout his career, it was dogged determination. He stepped up and delivered stellar performances throughout the season and the solid Adams-Campbell partnership meant Arsenal did a double in the 2001-2002 season, winning both the FA cup and the Premier league title.
The tremendous first season was followed by an equally impressive performance at the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan where he was eventually named in the ‘Team of the Tournament’ even though England lost to Brazil in the quarter finals.
Evidently, Sol Campbell was at the peak of his career in 2002. The weight of expectations on his shoulders increased further as Tony Adams retired from competitive football and Campbell had the responsibility of holding fort at the back for Arsenal. Although he missed out part of the season due to injury and the FA cup final due to suspension, he had a key role to play in Arsenal’s successful retention of the FA cup. His inclusion in the Premier League’s “Team of the Season” was an additional testimonial to that very fact.
In the following season , Campbell found a regular partner in defense in one, Kolo Toure and what a partnership it was to be! Arsenal finished the season unbeaten with the two playing an instrumental role conceding only 26 goals in the entire season. The lowest in Premier League history. The unbeaten run eventually extended to 49 games and Campbell was without a doubt the very rigid backbone of ‘The Invincibles’ of 2003/2004. The termination of the unbeaten run eventually meant Arsenal finished runners-up in the league but managed to lift the Fa Cup for the season 2004/2005.
The season of 2005/2006, for Sol, was marred by injury and personal problems post-Christmas. But yet again, in the face of adversity, the ever resolute Campbell made a return to first team football after losing out on 10 weeks of action. Making a comeback in April , apparently he had saved the best for last. In his last game, Sol Campbell delivered the most magical moment in his career which has remained etched in the memories of Arsenal fans since. At the 2006 Champions league final at the Stade de France, Campbell in his golden jersey leaped above all his Barcelona counterparts to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead by heading in a Thierry Henry cross. The ecstatic celebrations would eventually end in despair as 10-men Arsenal went down 2-1 but Campbell, on the night, ensured that he would go down in Arsenal history books and probably be counted amongst the ranks of predecessors Martin Keown and Tony Adams.
The Later Years
Sol decided to part ways with Arsenal, in the summer of 2006 in hunt of a “new challenge” which led him, much to the surprise of Arsene Wenger, to Portsmouth . He eventually captained the outfit in 2008 and led them a win in the FA cup final to collect his third FA cup winners medal. However, his stay at Pompey would be short-lived as he made a rather disastrous move to Notts county in League two.
After quitting Notts county by mutual consent, having played just 1 game for the club, Campbell returned to Arsenal in mid 2009 to train and regain fitness before the January transfer window. He signed for Arsenal again in January, 2010 and featured in a few reserve team fixtures and League games. Sol moved to Newcastle United in July 2010 but was eventually released by Newcastle Manager ALan Pardew a year later.
He retired as a free agent in May 2012.
A recent spat with Arsene Wenger regarding Arsenal’s inaction in transfer windows and the infamous ‘Traitor’ tag endowed to him by ‘the Daily Mail’ raised questions on his credibility for the ‘Arsenal Legend’ tag. All such doubts were quashed when Sol Campbell featured at Number 15 on the Gunners’ greatest 50 players survey conducted by Arsenal.com . It was undeniable evidence of the fact that Sol Campbell is indeed remembered as the impregnable Central Defender who had incredibly fast feet for a man of his size. For the man who never gave up and yet managed to keep incredibly calm in the intensity of On-field battle and off-field abuse. It isn’t, therefore, surprising that he was titled ‘Super-Rock’. A term christened by Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger. After all, it isn’t everyday that a man commands respect in the red side of London having served Tottenham for 9 years.
Over the course of his entire career, Sol Campbell might have managed to leave a bad taste in the mouth of many, primarily Tottenham fans, but he will always be remembered as the spine of ‘The Invincibles’ and the man who came closest to winning Arsenal the UEFA Champions League!
~ Written by guest author Anhad Gill ~