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Sol Campbell Interview

football,portsmouth fc,england,soccer

So Solid

He has always given his all for club and country but did he really consider turning his back on England on the eve of their biggest game for years? Sol Campbell tells it straight to Matthew Hirtes

When we meet, Sol Campbell has just finished a lengthy meet-and-greet session, signing copies of his new DVD, ‘Sol Man’. Celebrities can be a little tired or disinterested in conducting an interview after such exertions. Campbell’s either a very good actor or he’s happy to rabbit. Let’s face it, Sol’s from east London, so it’s more likely to be the latter.

He was born Sulzeer Jeremiah Campbell on September 18, 1974. It’s a 30-minute tube ride from where he was raised in Stratford to Arsenal’s Highbury stadium. It’s not far. Yet Campbell has come a long way.

Playing for Newham District against David Beckham, who starred for Waltham Forest District, Sol had already started training with Spurs when he was offered the chance to go to the FA School of Excellence at Lilleshall. Asked what his time in deepest Shropshire meant to him, Campbell replies: "Going to Lilleshall helped me. I’d been living in a concrete jungle and it was the first time I experienced the country, breathed fresh air. Sure, I was homesick, but I took being there by the scruff of the neck and I made it into a happy experience. Lilleshall opened my mind.

It’s an environment where you’re taught how to conduct yourself on and off the field."

Discipline, though, was nothing new to Sol. When we talk, he is recovering from the death of his father. I enquire what sort of influence Campbell senior had on him. "My father was a very strong man. When he wanted something to be done, it got done. The household was a strict one. Things had to be done properly."

Campbell made his Spurs debut at 18, coming off the bench to score against Chelsea in December 1992. He became captain and a favourite with the fans. I remind him of the time when he berated ex-Spurs player Teddy Sheringham for missing a penalty for Manchester United at White Hart Lane and he starts laughing. His actions back then make his decision to sign for north London rivals Arsenal all the more difficult to understand. Was there ever a chance he would stay at Tottenham? "I left making the decision to leave as late as possible, let’s put it that way. My injury problems back then gave me plenty of time to think about my future. When I chose to sign for Arsenal, I was happy and adamant that I’d made the right decision. Results since then have borne this out.

"Sure, it wasn’t easy to leave Spurs. I’d been there so long. But in the end I realised I had to go to progress as a player. If you don’t look after your career, it can just pass you by. You can get to 35 and wonder where your career has gone."

Can he see himself returning to Spurs? Sol shakes his head dismissively: "I’ll probably finish my career in America. I’m happy and settled at Arsenal at the moment. But who knows what the future might bring?"

Following disciplinary problems wearing the red shirt of Arsenal, specifically the incidents with Man United pair Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Eric Djemba-Djemba, there was talk that Campbell was so miffed with the FA at the punishment meted out to him that he was considering quitting the international scene. Sol, who admits he’s ‘prepared to foul: the game is about winning and there’s a lot at stake’ responds angrily to the suggestion: "That was a load of crap. The decision was made by the FA hierarchy. I accepted it. I wasn’t happy but I got on with it. Come Turkey, I was there."

Ah, Turkey. The sort of the game a professional like Campbell relishes. He’s beaming in recollection: "Istanbul was a fantastic challenge. The week before that game was very odd. All the FA stuff. It was bizarre. The Turkish fans made the atmosphere fantastic. The lads dug in. So many things were happening in that game, in the stands, at half-time, after the game. It was like a film."

Nominated for the 2003 European Footballer of the Year award, along with team-mate Thierry Henry, did Sol think he’d give the likes of Henry (who eventually finished in second place) a run for his money? "Ha-ha. No. But it’s fantastic that I made the top 50. It shows that in Europe people are looking at me as a proper player, appreciating what I do with no axe to grind. And I’m happy and honoured."

Looking ahead to the European Championships, Campbell reckons England have a good chance but insists: "The main thing is that we’ve got to get everybody fit. At the 2002 World Cup we had so many players who were half-fit and you can’t win a tournament that way."

And with that verdict, the interview’s at an end. Sol shakes my hand. He’s wearing a Prada motorcycle jacket, but Prada or no Prada, he’s still a model interviewee.
Published: 2007-04-17
Author: Matthew Hirtes

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