Sol Campbell


I think he misjudged it. In 1999, Liverpool fans largely accepted Steve McManaman going to Real Madrid for nothing. Barcelona fans did not accept Luis Figo following him, but they at least got a world record fee. Perhaps Campbell thought, perhaps because he was told, that in the Bosman era this kind of behaviour would be routine for the game’s stars. He expected acrimony, I’m sure, but I think he also expected camouflage.

It turned out he was lighting a flare. Because there has never been another move like Campbell’s, or even close. He was - as every player still is - entitled to run down his contract while insisting that he would sign another, in order to enrich himself by leaving for nothing the club where he was the adored captain, where he received his training and his opportunity in the game, and go not just to a more successful club - though many made offers - but to the fiercest rivals of his own. Since Campbell, however, no other player has done it. They either lack his resolve, or have learned from his example.

My point is this. To neutrals, or the uninterested, the loathing that Spurs fans feel for Campbell following his move to Arsenal in 2001 looks quaint. Worse, it looks like a deliberate failure to understand that Arsenal then were a more prestigious and successful team (as they still are, by a smaller margin). I think Spurs fans deserve more sympathy. Football is some men’s job, of course, but it is not only a job. For most footballers it is a dream, at least at first, and the good ones are truly loved for doing it. Campbell was free not to requite the love of Spurs fans, but afterwards so were they to draw conclusions about his character.