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, and one that should concern all football fans. 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. Martin Cloake
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. Paul Kelso
From WSC 175 September 2001. What was happening this month