Thursday, 3 May 2012

Sol Campbell - Legend.

Legend is a word often overused in football. But in regards to Sol Campbell there is little else to describe a man who has achieved so much.

Two league titles, Four FA cups, 73 England Caps, England captain, Champions League final scorer, and many more achievements encompass an outstanding career that sadly came to an official end yesterday. For me he is the greatest defender to play in the Premier League.

Announcing his retirement, Sol said it was "hard to let go, especially when you have been a top sportsman".

He reiterated that despite 409 days since his last game, the decision wasn't easy, 'To say that I am not going to play professional football again is difficult because I've had a long time at the top and I've put in a lot of work and it's taken a lot of dedication."

Strong in the tackle, imperious in the air, Campbell had many amazing traits to his play. Perhaps the best was his athleticism; noone ever got the better of Campbell in a one on one. His 6ft 2in frame gave him his ox-like strength, and a background to challenge for every ball, and win. Even his reading was fantastic, and led to countless Maldini-esque interceptions throughout his career. During his time at Arsenal he forged partnerships with different defenders, yet most notably the back four of Lauren, Toure Campbell and Cole which provided the base for the greatest club achievement in Britain in the modern era.

Campbell, born to Jamaican parents was always obsessed with football, he found it hard to release his character, but as he says, "my expression was football." After signing for Tottenham he quickly rose through the ranks and into the first team, making his Premier League debut at the blossoming age of 18. His exceptional ability shone through the cracks of a struggling Tottenham side - Sol never finished higher than 7th during his time at Spurs - but even after being made captain, it was clear that Campbell had to move on.

What amazed everyone was where he moved. The move down the road to Arsenal, Tottenham's greatest rivals, showed amazing courage and belief that Campbell represents. It may not be the most loyal thing to have done, particularly after stating in the official Tottenham magazine that he would never do such a thing, but a double, two other FA cups, and the invincibles season which came in the middle of a 49 unbeaten run is exactly why he made the move.

After winning the double in his first season with the Gunners, he went into the 2002 World Cup with England and was voted in the best team of the tournament, signifying his ability to shine on the biggest stage, and the recognition of his exceptional defensive abilities from around the world. 2003 brought an FA cup to the trophy cabinet, but a disappointing league run-in saw Arsenal pipped to the title by Manchester United. But in the final two games of the season, Arsenal and Sol Campbell started a journey that few - if any - had thought possible.

Arsenal were the best team in the world in 2003/4. Going the 38 match season unbeaten scoring  goals and playing with exceptional attacking flair and beauty is unthinkable, but they had the quality to achieve it. Campbell helped provide the solidity and bite in defence, as well as chipping in with the occasional goal. Arsenal actually secured the point they needed to win the title at White Hart Lane against Campbell's former club, the title was Sol's second during his 3 years at Arsenal, equalling the two won by Spurs in their history. 

The unbeaten run went into the next season, and much of the Arsenal squad simply forgot what it felt to lose a game. It was this winning attitude, which brought so much success to the team. After 49 games Arsenal finally lost, after Rooney dived over Sol's leg to earn a penalty and secure a 2-1 win for United at Old Trafford. The squad was dismantled far to quickly in the years afterwards.

Sol kept up his record of winning a trophy in each of his seasons at the club, with another FA cup medal in 2005. Yet the "unbeaten" aspect of Arsenal was slowly fading away, and the Gunners only scraped 4th place the following year, pipping Tottenham in the last game of the season. In what turned out to be Campbell's last game for Arsenal (in his first spell) Arsenal faced Barcelona in the Champions League final. Yet again rising to the occasion, Sol gave Arsenal the lead. A powerful header summing up his strength and desire to win. Yet is was not to be, after excellent defending throughout the game, the introduction of Henrik Larsson led to a heartbreaking quick fire double for the Catalans, and took the trophy away from 10-man Arsenal. He made 197 appearances for Arsenal, scoring 11 goals, in all competitions.

Unlike other invincibles, Campbell's career did not fade into the twilight after leaving Arsenal. At Portsmouth, under the gaze of Harry Redknapp he formed a strong defence that went on to win the FA cup in 2008, with Campbell leading out the side at Wembley.

A brief 2 month spell at Notts County in League Two followed in 2009, but Sol cancelled his contract and went back to Arsenal to maintain his fitness. This culminated in him re-signing for the club and filling in during some important games. Featuring in the Premier League meant that he joined the elite group of players that had played in the 18 seasons of the Premier League - the others being Ryan Giggs and David James.

Campbell proved he could still cut it at the top level, making his 200th appearance for Arsenal against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, although he was undoubtedly a shadow of the great player he once was. Campbell made his final appearance for the Gunners on Sunday 9th May 2010 in a 4-0 victory against Fulham. Yet another clean sheet to add to his collection.

Sol signed for Newcastle on the back of his time at Arsenal, but struggled with injury and form. His final match in football was a 4-0 defeat to Stoke on Saturday 19th March 2011, he was at blame for some of the goals and was substituted after 60 minutes.

He left Newcastle at the end of the season. After failing to find a suitable club, and struggling to regain fitness, for almost a year, he announced his retirement from football on 2 May 2012.

Campbell made 646 appearances for five different clubs between 1992 and 2011, as well as playing 73 times for England and taking part in six successive international tournaments.

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