Ivan Campo moved to Bolton Wanderers to escape the torture of Real Madrid, but as Sid Lowe writes, he may have gone to the wrong place
When Iván Campo swapped Madrid for Bolton, few tears were shed – least of all by Campo himself. “Leaving meant I could start enjoying life again,” he said after his goalscoring Premiership debut. With Rodney Marsh’s words ringing in his ears, Campo may wish to revise that opinion now, but it was born of the sad truth that his Real Madrid career was as troublesome as his English adventure has turned out to be.
Campo left three years of caustic criticism behind him. He had become a target for the Bernabéu boo-boys and the hyped-up sports press, thanks to his apparently lackadaisical attitude, a couple of high-profile howling errors and the widespread belief that he simply wasn’t good enough. According to one Spanish magazine, Campo was La Liga’s most whistled-at footballer – by his own fans. No wonder he was keen to praise English crowds for supporting their players “even when they make mistakes”.
At the start of last season, Campo made two vital errors against Betis and Las Palmas. Madrid lost both matches and Campo didn’t play again, something which merely confirmed what many already thought – Campo was no Real Madrid player. He started just ten league games in the last two years and never truly fulfilled the potential which persuaded Madrid to sign him from Real Mallorca in 1998.
Campo had been up against it from the start. The then Spain manager Javier Clemente took him to the 1998 World Cup, played him out of position on the right, and Campo – along with keeper Andoni Zubizarreta – took the blame for the early exit. Madridistas were questioning him even before he’d pulled on a white shirt.
But what most stood against him was the way he looked, the way he moved, the way he cut his hair. Or didn’t. Nicknamed el Pelos – the Hair – Campo’s frizzy mop, cross-eyed gaze and broken teeth singled him out, for better or worse. When he made a mistake, it was all too obvious, and it seemed somehow deliberate – a product of willing carelessness. A similar mistake from a close-cropped, athletic looking team-mate wouldn’t draw the same response.
Campo didn’t always help himself. A powerful, committed centre-back, he seemed to feel the need – perhaps because of where he was – to be more than just a defender; to prove that, like Fernando Hierro, he could play a bit too. The consequences were, on occasion, catastrophic. And rather comic.
Which is a shame, because defensively Campo proved that he certainly could play for Madrid. He was, after all, a key man in the 2000 European Cup triumph. But with his unruly mop and his ponderous, clumsy-looking gait, Campo became an easy target among Madrid’s megastars. Too easy. Why blame Roberto Carlos when the class clown can take the flak? It was as if the hair was all people saw and Campo grew tired of people within the club insisting he cut it off.
Perhaps he should have done; or perhaps it was too late. Campo seemed destined to be forever a figure of fun, the butt of easy jokes and – more unfairly – the in-house scapegoat. Don Balón magazine summed up popular perceptions in a list of ten Campo characteristics. Such as: “He always tries to be more than a man-marker. Poor Del Bosque!” Or: “His team-mates say he’s a funny guy. His partnership with Hierro is a laugh.” And: “Iván’s best assists have been for his rivals. Just ask [Betis’s] Casas.”
Then, suddenly, the laughing stopped. Out of the side for months, subjected to intense criticism from press, fans and many within the club, Campo suffered a breakdown. A crisis of confidence left him so nervous that he was unable to sleep; he suffered panic attacks, headaches and palpitations.
But if people stopped sniggering, they still thought that he wasn’t good enough. Madrid got rid and it started all over again, only with an added ingredient: as if the squiffy eyes, the crazy curls and the risky back-passes weren’t enough, these days there is always the old fall-back – in England, Campo’s a comedy foreigner too.
From WSC 193 March 2003. What was happening this month