Campbell, putting the Soul into Arsenal

Most Arsenal fans appear split on Arsene Wenger’s decision to re-sign Sol Campbell, or simply not bothered, probably because they see the 35-year old as a pit stop for tired legs, FA Cup compatible, or as no more than a positive charge in the changing room when the team needs a mental boost.
Yesterday, I was neither here nor there on Sol’s turn out for the reserve team on Tuesday night, three and a half years after he left the club. And, having thought I would remain atop the apathetic heap of Arsenal fans, my feelings changed today at the hands of a box of Carr’s water crackers.
>Automatically, this dry dish got me thinking of Stephen Carr, and the fine form he has found this season as Birmingham’s right-back. With a similar story to Campbell, the Irish defender hadn’t seen football for three months when he retired from Newcastle, and all forms of the game in December 2008.
Campbell never retired, although his wanderings took him to Portsmouth, before signing with Notts County in League Two. After just one game and what Sol called broken promises, he left the revolution at Meadow Lane and hasn’t played a competitive match in eight months.
Carr was only out for three months when he signed for Birmingham in February 2009 after training with the club, so you could argue the difference between the two is considerable when speaking of match fitness, a sharp eye, whatever you will.
But it’s more about the motivation of stepping back into the Premiership that is immeasurable and it appears to have worked for Carr. Under Alex Mcleish, he has played 19 games this season, forming part of a defence that at home is better than any team above them, bar equalling Chelsea.
Of course this doesn’t guarantee anything about Sol’s future at Arsenal, and at present we know little of Wenger’s plans for him. Indeed, the day Sol stormed off at half-time against West Ham might also cause doubts in the more sceptical among us. Still, with only two years between the pair, Carr is proving that Campbell cannot just succeed, but do it emphatically.
At the height of our Pro Evolution fuelled university days, my friends and I coined Sol as Man Arse – please, draw your own conclusions, although his never ending slide tackle against Croatia might help. As the old Arse banter resurfaces, so does my optimism that Sol can do a job for Arsenal.
And this might be one reason why Sol doesn’t get the recognition that might otherwise inspire fans that Wenger has added quality to the defence. Never has Sol reached the priceless buffoonery of Titus Bramble, but there was always something slightly comical about the Londoner that shielded people from taking him seriously. Don’t forget, we speak about a man who was voted in the top 50 players of all time on the club website. Add 135 Arsenal caps and two Premiership crowns (one league and cup double) and oh yes, this man is deadly serious on the pitch.
It might just be his simple nature, basic analysis of things and fondness for the cliché that has never made Sol quite as fashionable as Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi, those he heralded today as his inspiration to continue playing regardless of age.
You’re more likely to meet Sol down the Blackstock for a pint, than the name holding together your all time dream team. At the bar, he might even tell you about his love for jazz music. It’s sounding like I know the guy personally. I don’t. That just springs from Sol’s open and emotional style of playing the game and laying his heart on the line. All rudiments for making fan and player feel close.
Even if it’s only in the dressing room, at least Campbell can install the soul that some players have been crticised to be lacking. To echo Eldo’s words yesterday, we all support whichever 11 are on the field. With some players though, I can’t admit to loving them the way I did Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Dennis Bergkamp . . . the list goes on.
At the weekend, Grant Holt, the Norwich forward, said some interesting words about needing physicality as well as psychology for when the fixture list piles up after a snow disrupted January. What I love about Sol is knowing he can be there weekly. His durability has always been a strong characteristic and will bode well if required for a congested run.
Then (and without sounding like the xenophobe you find on BBC1 around 10.30pm on a Saturday) a bit of English courage might not go a miss either. Our foreign stars dazzle me and I don’t require the bones of an English squad to be happy as an Arsenal fan. Having said that, a little more domestic presence in the squad can teach the younger overseas parade about the wits needed to be a successful Premership player.
With all this in mind, I welcome back his hard-hitting English game, his jazzy soul, his winning frame of mind and his fortified exterior.

Have something to tell us about this article?
Let us know