Thursday 24 September ~

Sol Campbell has walked out, and not for the first time. In WSC 175 (September 2001) Martin Cloake criticised the defender for his move from Spurs to Arsenal

The reaction of Spurs fans to Sol Campbell’s decision to join Arsenal has been taken as more evidence of our taste for whingeing. But I’d argue we have a point. I’m not condoning the pond life who strung an effigy of Campbell up outside White Hart Lane. But while it’s important to get the reaction in proportion, it’s also vital to see why anger is a justifiable res­ponse to football’s own Shaun Woodward.

Like any professional in any other business, it is claimed, Campbell has a right to choose where to work. But football is not like any other business. If it was, Campbell wouldn’t be able to command such financial rewards. Football is cash rich because of the brand loyalty of fans. If you pre­fer McDonald’s but there’s only a Burger King nearby, you go for Burger King – it’s no big deal. But the vast majority of football fans don’t switch teams (even David Mellor went back to Chelsea). Unlike any other pro­duct, a football club has total con­sumer loyalty. This is why advertisers and media groups are prepared to pay such huge amounts to be associated with it.

What makes Campbell so undeserving of the respect he craves is that he cynically used this loyalty to maximise his earning potential. By repeating the mantra that he was “a Tottenham man”, Campbell sought to present him­self as a club loyalist in order to buy the time he needed to reach the end of his contract. That ensured as much money as possible went into his own pocket, and nothing to the club he claimed to feel so strongly about.

You may say good luck to him. But having evoked strong feelings of club loyalty, Cam­p­bell can hardly com­plain if a decision which da­mages Tottenham while boo­s­­ting Arsenal causes fans to lose respect for him. Esp­ecially when, as he now seems to be claiming, he made the decision to sign for Tottenham’s great rivals as an act of revenge after Spurs “hurt” him by revealing, quite legitimat­ely, what his contract demands were after negotiations had broken down.

Campbell has made us suspicious of any player who claims affinity for the club they play for, and so potentially weakens that brand loyalty. His move also illustrates another wor­rying trend. Take the transfer of Ipswich’s Richard Wright, also to Arsenal. Newly pro­moted Ipswich surpassed everyone’s ex­pec­tations. Yet despite this, Wright felt he “had to move on to win things”. Underachieving Tot­tenham losing a quality defender is one thing, but it’s difficult to see how much more suc­cessful Ipswich could realistically have been. Yet even they are losing good players.

Whatever happened to players creating suc­cess, rather than buying into it? Is each sea­son to become merely a trial for play­ers who will eventually transfer to Man Utd, Arsenal or Liverpool? How much longer will fans feel loyalty to a collection of shirts worn by players who may have played against their club last week, or may play against it the next?

But at least Wright hadn’t spent months professing his commitment to Ips­wich. In fact, he recently signed a new contract to en­sure Ipswich would receive a transfer fee if a bigger club came in for him. Campbell, on the other hand, exploited the ben­efits of sup­porter loyalty while wanting exemption from the responsibilities that come with those benefits. There is, of course, a great irony to all this. For which club first turned ­FC into plc, and which club’s former chairman played a pivotal role in bringing Sky’s millions into the game? The answer is Tottenham Hotspur.

Comments (1)
Comment by Coxy 2009-09-24 16:18:01

All footballers are mercenary, its their profession. They cannot build loyalty to a team when they are young, because if they are any good they are playing football on a weekend not watching it from the stands. The only reason it is noticable now is the rewards are far greater, I remember Alan Mullery saying honestly that he would have left Spurs if someone had offered him ten thousand ( Said live on Sky in the 90'S)
In Campbells case Spurs management ballesed up his contract,which Chelsea might being doing now letting Joe Cole and Kalou's contracts run to below a year.

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