Thursday 11 December ~
Yesterday police released pictures of Spurs fans they want to trace in relation to the recent abuse of Sol Campell. We look back to WSC 175 (September 2001) when Paul Kelso examined Campbell's defection to Arsenal
Sol Campbell’s departure from Tottenham is going to hurt. It hurt when the move was announced, it hurt when pictures of him in an Arsenal shirt appeared in the Mirror (at the behest of its Arsenal-supporting editor Piers Morgan) and it will hurt a lot more every time he raises his right arm for offside at Highbury.
For Tottenham fans it was a desperate end to an ugly public auction conducted between Sol, his agent Sky Andrew and half the clubs in western Europe. But there are two things it was not. First, it was not a suprise – only one club could satisfy Campbell’s key criteria (cash aside) of staying in London and of playing Champions League football. And second, it wasn’t Campbell’s fault. The blame for the departure of the finest player to be groomed at White Hart Lane since Glenn Hoddle lies squarely with the managers and directors responsible for running down one of Europe’s great clubs over the past decade.
That is why I will not be calling Campbell Judas. Routinely during the summer’s longest-running transfer saga, as the size of Campbell’s alleged demands grew to unsustainable levels – £130,000 a week was reportedly the breaking point – it was said that no player was bigger than the club. In fact, precisely the opposite is true. Tottenham couldn’t keep Sol Campbell because his ambition, his ability and his value in the market far outstripped that of the club that nurtured him from the playground to the Premiership.
Spurs’ progress over the last decade should have mirrored that of Campbell. Instead the club’s progress has more in common with the fading career of John Scales, Campbell’s occasional partner at centre-half. The men to blame are Alan Sugar and the succession of second-rate staff he hired that allowed the club to fall from the Big Five to the Dodgy Dozen clubs that swim in mid-table; too good to go down, but no chance in the league.
Campbell’s debut came in 1993, a year after the Sky television deal that accompanied the creation of the Premiership, in a Spurs side featuring Jürgen Klinsmann, Teddy Sheringham and Nick Barmby. It was a turning point for the game and should have been for the club. Nobody knew better than the chairman the reality of the new world. Sugar, after all, had nipped out of the negotiating room to let Sky’s Sam Chisholm know that more cash was needed to beat off ITV’s bid.
Yet instead of investing the windfall in quality, and continuing to spend as Manchester United and Arsenal did, the chairman embarked on an economy drive that apparently had more to do with his ego than the club’s wellbeing. Sugar was always determined to prove to football he could do it his way, and was unable or unwilling to hear the laughter from boardrooms that were happy to invest in Carlos Kickaballs, as long as they could win them trophies. The result, as Campbell made his England debut in 1996, was a club settling for frugality and a defensive approach precisely at the moment Manchester United’s lavish spending and breathtaking pass-and-move was beginning to dominate.
Come Campbell’s finest hour, the 0-0 draw with Italy in Rome in 1997 that secured England’s qualification for the World Cup, Spurs were flirting with relegation under the guidance of a Swiss no-hoper Christian Gross, hired on the say-so of Ottmar Hitzfeld, who didn’t fancy the job. Arsenal had just acquired the clearly brilliant Arsène Wenger. Sugar’s foreigner, like almost everything else he did for the club, was second rate by comparison.
Campbell waited for the club’s ambition to match his own; instead Sugar brought in George Graham, who, despite his reputation, couldn’t even build a solid back four around the best centre-half in the country. Now all three have gone. Hoddle’s second coming was too late; in his mind Campbell has already given the club two years more than he had to.
He is not the first to have jumped ship for the sake of silverware. This year we will welcome back Teddy Sheringham, another who felt he had little choice but to move to fulfil himself. He will be forgiven by the ever-fickle faithful within the first 90 minutes of the season. Here’s hoping the new board is not allowed to forget why he, and now Sol, felt they had to leave in the first place.