Sol Campbell: the forgotten Premier League man mountain

“It was as if he was indestructible, such a power spread from him”

Very rarely will you find someone who truly understands or recognises the greatest centre-back to grace the Premier League stage. He was born Sulzeer Jeremiah but you know him as Sol. The man mountain of Sol Campbell.

Whenever you ask someone to make an all-time Premier League XI, the centre-back partnership will usually consist mainly of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Tony Adams, Jaap Stam or Nemanja Vidic.

20 years a Premier League player with over 500 appearances. A multiple Premier League winner. A multiple FA Cup winner with two different teams. A League Cup winning captain. Three times selected in Premier League team of the year.

11 years an England international with 73 caps. Played in two World Cups. Two European Championships. Captained his country. Selected in the 2002 World Cup & 2004 European Championship teams of the tournament.

Never ending sliding tackle by Sol Campbell

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All impressive reading but his unique and greatest achievement was being the linchpin of a team that went a whole league season unbeaten. To win games requires a team to score goals. To not lose games requires a team to not concede goals.

As the main defender of a team to go a whole season without defeat is special, however, when you consider his centre-back partners he had at the time, it shows how special Sol Campbell really was.

“Sol had become one of our main players, and we now had an absolute physical presence and stability at the back.

He is monstrous and, with his full power and also his ability to score a goal, you have an outstanding player. With Jens Lehmann, Ashley Cole, Lauren, Touré, they were all winners.”

Wenger speaking on Campbell and the defence of the Invincibles season

The 2003-04 season was the first time Kolo Toure would be used as a centre-back by Arsene Wenger. He needed a rock beside him to help guide and cover his mistakes that he would inevitably make being a rookie, Sol Campbell was that man.

The other options at centre-back that season was an ageing Martin Keown and Pascal Cygan. For Arsenal to go unbeaten with these options is quite incredible.

But this incredible achievement by Campbell wasn’t his first. Two seasons previous to this he made the controversial move from Spurs to Arsenal after a solid 2002 World Cup, in which he made the tournament best XI, and in his first season at the club, he won the league and cup double.

Sol

Not only did he achieve this but he took over the mantle of club legend Tony Adams without much issue. When Arsenal sealed the title at Old Trafford it was Campbell in the heart of the defence with Adams not in the squad.

For the FA Cup final 12 months after Michael Owen tore Adams and Keown apart, Campbell was Adams partner this time around as they kept Chelsea at bay with a clean sheet to win 2-0.

“I signed Campbell as I found that when playing against him his attackers could not pass him like they could other players

…it was as if he was indestructible, such a power spread from him”

– Arsène Wenger

From the years 2000-2005 there can be not much dispute that Sol Campbell was one of, if not THE, best centre-back in the world. He had every attribute you could want.

Strong, fast, read the game extremely well, good in the air, strong tackler plus he could grab you a goal like all good centre-backs should from set-piece situations. Sol Campbell had it all.

Sol Campbell's Goal | UCL Final 2006 vs Barca

He scored in a Champions League final in 2006 despite losing his place earlier in the season and wasn’t set to play at all against Barcelona that night. Which shows the mental strength of the man.

Speaking of mental strength, coping with the Spurs fans over the top hatred in 2001 was Sol 2quite a sight. He also went on to win the FA Cup as captain of Portsmouth in 2008, you know, like you do. What a man mountain this lad was.

The possible reason why Sol doesn’t get the recognition he deserves is he was never one to hog the limelight. He went about his work quietly and professionally. He wouldn’t be one for a post or pre-match interviews giving it the big one nor gallivanting round town with the paparazzi snapping away at his actions.

He was a defender. That’s it. Showing his personality to the public didn’t bother him. He almost seems to be punished for this.

When you look at the ridiculous send off John Terry organised for himself, can you imagine Sol having the gall to do that? When you see Rio Ferdinand constantly in the media, even whilst still playing when he made the ridiculous TV show, ‘Rio’s World Cup Wind-ups’. I mean are you having a laugh Rio?

Adams is Mr Arsenal. Vidic became a cult hero amongst Man Utd fans with his eastern European look and tough style. Nobody in this country is really bothered about a Sol Campbell type.

Sol seems a bit too intelligent for the average football fan to get along with. Terry and Ferdinand talk the dumb London footballer so the dumb London football fan relates to him. Not many relate to Sol Campbell.

How could they? This is a man who has delved into politics and spoke about possibly trying to become Mayor of London. He appreciates art, interior design, he gives speeches at care and injustice awards. He has been to the Chelsea flower show just this week. This type of ‘footballer’ is obviously something to be mocked or laughed at.

In other countries around the world, it is quite common for famous sports stars to become Mayor’s or Politicians. But not here, this is England. We like our footballers to be dumb, so we can relate but also mock how dumb they are at the same time.

We know where we stand then. Not many know where they stand with Sol Campbell which scares them. So they choose to forget him or ignore him.

I refuse to forget a man that was an absolute rock in a defence that went a whole Premier League season unbeaten, that was a rock in the England defence that gave us a genuine shot of winning something in 2002 and 2004 before the likes of Upson, Lescott and Cahill lowered our standards significantly and who has the nerve to be a quite intelligent human being, who isn’t your stereotypical footballer in this country.

Sol, you were great.

Why does Mourinho have a Jedi-like mental hold over the media?

“The fact is Jose Mourinho is made of a shiny thick coat of Teflon when it comes to any possible criticism of his teams, his management or his comments.”

It is absolutely fascinating to witness the hacks in this country, as well Sky Sports and alike, that take pride in destroying anybody in football’s reputation or credibility whenever they see fit over the smallest of things, be totally uninterested in doing the same to Jose Mourinho.

Jose Mourinho has many gifts. A gifted manager, gifted coach, gifted translator…ahem. But perhaps his greatest gift is his Jedi-like mental hold over the media in this country.

They seem to be totally unaware that Jose can say any old nonsense and they soak it up like a sponge, no matter how ridiculous or untrue.

He once attacked Arsene Wenger by saying he is a specialist in failure when the Frenchman correctly called Jose up on supposedly conceding the Premier League title, well the special one is a specialist in evading failure that’s for sure.

Take Jose Mourinho’s latest media propaganda regarding Manchester United’s end to the season. He claims that Man Utd have too many games so he is sacrificing the Premier League to fully commit to the Europa League. This in itself deserves to be scrutinised by the media in this country as to how many games Man Utd actually have, with the quality of squad he has available.

A five-second Google search tells me that the only significant injured players Man Utd have had over the last few weeks are Zlatan Ibrahimovic & Marcos Rojo. That’s it. Luke Shaw & Darmian were out but were they first choice full-backs? Luke Shaw certainly isn’t.

“He had a good performance. He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him,” Mourinho said. This critique was so pre-calculated that it came with one of those sound bites that Mourinho is always able to reach for. “It was his body with my brain,” he said.

Jose Mourinho’s take on Luke Shaw’s performance versus Everton

Jose came out after another convincing away defeat at Spurs and claimed that Man Utd only have one game left to the season as they don’t need the Premier League games. Yet nothing is said from anyone about this ludicrous statement.

Let’s say the remaining games are pointless because Man Utd can’t finish in the top 4, who’s fault is that? What’s the reason that Man Utd can’t finish in the top 4? Is it not a disgrace that Manchester Utd spent over £150 million in the summer, to add to a squad that had spent over £130 million the season before, which added to an outlay of over £160 million to the season before that, has failed to finish in the Champions League spots? Where has this £450 million gone?!

Jose Mourinho has been telling everyone in every press conference or interview that he can’t play a certain team for a certain game because he doesn’t have the players. Let’s have another quick five-second google search and find out if he is telling the truth. Players that have been available to him for his favoured 4-3-3 formation:

GK – De Gea; Romero. RB – Valencia; Jones; Smalling; Young. CB – Bailly; Jones; Smalling; Blind. LB – Blind; Young. CM – Herrera; Fellaini; Pogba; Carrick; Mata; Rooney. Winger – Mkhitaryan; Lingard; Rashford; Martial. Striker – Rashford; Martial; Rooney. If a manager can’t pick a competitive team for a game every three or four days from that, then sack him.

The fact is Jose Mourinho is made of a shiny thick coat of Teflon when it comes to any possible criticism of his teams, his management or his comments. In spite of the fact that he is actually treating the media with complete contempt, as he knows full well they will report whatever he says and then discuss it like starving sheep that fall over themselves with any soundbite which they desperately crave.

How about you delve into or even dismiss what he is telling you and look at the facts. You might then get around to doing some journalism and calling out Jose for what he has been over the past two seasons, a failure.

Follow The Ginger Pirlo on Twitter @ToonBano

New Newcastle kit ‘leaked’!

Many of us have caught a glimpse of the supposedly new Newcastle kit that has been ‘leaked’ on social media, which shows Dwight Gayle giving it the big one as he rocks the ‘classic’ black and white design we were all expecting, complete with a brand new sponsor.

This new sponsor seems to be Chinese betting firm Fun88, which would also confirm the rumours of such an establishment being the next business to flaunt itself on the black and white stripe, which is replacing the awful Wonga once and for all. Thank the Lord.

No details have been released yet on whether this is, in fact, our next sponsor or how much they are spending to promote themselves via ourselves but let’s hope it’s in the levels you would expect a top Premier League club to receive, and not some cheap job concluded by tax-avoider Lee Charnley.

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Christian Atsu set to sign for Newcastle permanently for £6 million

“His fee of £6 million is worth the punt for someone who obviously has talent but has never had a club yet to call home”

It looks like Newcastle are taking up the option to sign Christian Atsu on a permanent basis from Chelsea for around £6 million. The infamous ‘Sky sources’ are all over the story claiming the club and Atsu are in negotiations today as the deadline from his loan clause to make his move permanent is closing in. Atsu has been decent overall in the Championship but is he good enough for the Premier League?

Well if you look at his record for Ghana this season he has become arguably their most influential attacker and his impressive performances helped Ghana to the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations.

In the Championship for the Magpies he has put in some decent performances and some memorable moments on our way back to the Premier League. None more so than the free kick that finished off Cardiff in the penultimate game of the season – what a beauty!

His fee of £6 million is worth the punt for someone who obviously has talent but has never had a club yet to call home, as he has been continuously shipped out on loan all across Europe. We might just be able to get the best out of him next season.

Follow me on Twitter @ToonBano. Also check out TheGingerPirlo.com

Claude Puel has taken Southampton backwards this season

Claude Puel has taken Southampton backwards this season and wasted any feel good factor the club had over the past couple of years.

Many were surprised to see Puel chosen as the man to replace Ronald Koeman after the Dutchman walked out to join Everton. A relatively unknown coach over here and not the big name many Southampton fans were hoping for to build on their impressive 6th place finish in 2015/16. Not many managers inherit a football club on such a high, given that most walk into a dressing room void of any confidence, half way through a season, as the club has just sacked the previous man in charge.

The Frenchman had a whole pre-season to bring in the players he wanted, to either develop a new style of play or to continue playing in the successful continental manner Southampton have enjoyed since Mauricio Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins in 2013.

Looking at the performances so far this season he hasn’t really done one or the other. Any changes he has made have been small and detrimental to the team and players. For e.g. the first month or so he insisted on playing a natural wide player, like Nathan Redmond or Dusan Tadic, as the central striker of a front three with natural centre-forwards mainly played in the wide positions. It just didn’t make sense and now the players are suffering from it.

We need Hatem Ben Arfa back in the Premier League

“Hatem Ben Arfa is one of the most exciting players in Europe. He must play football to entertain the world. We want him back in the Premier League.”

I love Hatem Ben Arfa. He is a genius. An enigma. The ultimate maverick. We need him back in The Premier League as witnessing him sat on the bench at PSG every week is hurtful. A talent like HBA needs to be on the pitch to entertain the world.

OGC Nice are amazingly chasing the French League title this season as they fight the mega rich PSG and AS Monaco head on. This somewhat surprising challenge is based off the back of their previous campaign in 2015/16 where from absolutely no-where they were chasing the Champions League places despite only expected to be a mid table team at best. This was down to bringing in a player from the football scrapheap who didn’t have a club, who was unfit but did have amazing talent. That player was Newcastle and briefly Hull City outcast Hatem Ben Arfa.

Nice needed a player like Ben Arfa and Ben Arfa needed a team like Nice. A team with no expectations that would give him the platform to perform week in week out and potentially be their headline act if he got himself match fit. The enigmatic Frenchman did not disappoint as he tore through Ligue 1 almost from day one right through the whole season as the small French club were agonisingly close to qualifying for the Champions League. All of which was under the guidance of current Southampton boss Claude Puel.

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Ben Arfa has been linked to joining the Saints when Puel left Nice to go to the South coast club, Ben Arfa was also leaving Nice on a free transfer. However, with likes of Barcelona looking into his signature the chances of him landing at St Mary’s were extremely thin. It was PSG who finally gave Ben Arfa a 2-year contract in hope to he could re-create his blistering form for the French champions. Unfortunately for HBA he has not been given a genuine chance by new boss Unai Emery to show his talent and is consistently left on the bench and given 10-minute cameos near the end of games or left out the matchday squad completely.

This is a sorry sight for Ben Arfa as his blatant talent is a crime to be wasted sat on the bench as he was arguably the best player in the whole of France last season, definitely the most exciting. If Claude Puel could rescue the skillful winger from his PSG slumber next season, or any other Premier League club, it would be a glorious site to see the lad in full flow again.

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Ben Arfa had an amazing season in 2015/16 as he scored 18 goals in 34 games and had some of the best dribbling stats in Europe, he averaged 4 successful dribbles per game! Which is incredible. The French international would definitely add some quality to the Saints forward line as it has failed to ignite this season and got even worse when Charlie Austin was put out of action for four months. Ben Arfa ex-team mate Boufal has failed to live up to expectations, Redmond & Tadic have rare moments of quality, Rodriguez doesn’t seem up to full match speed and Shane Long hardly gets a kick.

Hatem Ben Arfa is one of the most exciting players in Europe. He must play football to entertain the world. We want him back in the Premier League.

The Premier League 10 Best Goalkeepers

“He has come a long way from the skinny kid who couldn’t deal with crosses that landed on these shores in 2011.”

There have never been so many top goalkeepers in The Premier League as there is now. We may not have the phenomenon of Buffon or the enigma that is Neuer but we have some crackers. The question is though, who is the best?

Here are my 10 best goalkeepers in the Premier League.

10. Ben Foster – West Brom

Not the most commanding of goalkeepers. You would think a team like West Brom with all the giants they have throughout their side, would have a beast of a goalkeeper. Foster is a great shot stopper on his day but can make the odd horrendous mistake. His opportunity at Manchester Utd was criminally wasted as he was swiftly moved on and succumbed to mid-table obscurity. He was outstanding at White Hart Lane recently but still had 4 goals past him so no one will really remember. The life of a goalkeeper.

9. Jordan Pickford – Sunderland

Pickford has proved himself to be a top-class shot-stopper this season. You have to be to play for Sunderland, let’s face it. His injury has been a massive blow for the perennial relegation battling north-east side. If they stood any chance of another great escape this season, then they needed this lad between the sticks to dig them out some precious points.

8. Kasper Schmeichel – Leicester City

Ask me to make this list last season and Schmeichel would be right at the top end. This season has been a spectacular fall from grace matching that of his club. To be fair to Kasper he has had an injury which has kept him out for a long period but even before this, he wasn’t as commanding as he was last season. Nowhere near in fact. The main reason he even makes this list is the Champions League performances shouldn’t be ignored. Leicester qualified after they conceded ZERO goals from the first 4 games. Impressive.

7. Fraser Forster – Southampton

If I was compiling this list at the start of the season Forster would be higher up, perhaps much higher up. His form over the last few months, however, has taken a startling downturn. The Saints fans on a weekly basis would sing “England’s No.1” but this chant hasn’t been heard in a long time. Perhaps the unbelievable EFL Cup campaign where Saints and Forster haven’t conceded a single goal on their route to the final will inject the 6″7 Geordie with some much-needed confidence. Plus bring back those chants!

6. Tom Heaton – Burnley

What a season Burnley are having in their return to the big league. Well, in home games that is. Away from Turf Moor, it’s not so rosy but a lot of their good work comes from the fact they have a solid base starting with Captain Tom Heaton. At a club like Burnley, you know you are going to be tested as a goalkeeper. Heaton is passing this test with flying colours. The Lancashire side has avoided relegation by being rock solid at home with many clean sheets from Heaton.

5. Jack Butland – Stoke

To complete a trio of England keepers back to back, Jack Butland is this countries Butlandbrightest hope to take over from Joe Hart. The sooner the better. He is extremely unfortunate to have been out all season so far as he had a spectacular 2015/16, where he won Stoke’s player of the year award and made huge strides at International level. To be No.5 on the list may seem generous given he hasn’t played yet this season but in fairness, it can also be seen as harsh as he could easily be in the top 3 if he had the chance to carry on his impressive form and development from last year. Let’s all hope for a speedy recovery and he can grab the England No.1 shirt off that Head & Shoulders enthusiast for good.

4. Petr Cech – Arsenal

Still a top keeper but his powers have undeniably diminished over the past couple of years. He still has a presence about him but he allows shots to go past him into his net that a Petr Cech in his peak simply wouldn’t do. He is a Premier League legend and now has the all-time record of 170 clean sheets to himself. However, the word legend is very apt. He is aged 34 now, which isn’t exactly ‘old’ for a keeper, but he is without doubt past his peak and his standards are slowly dropping with every season that goes by.

Tall, safe handling, good distribution and a solid shot stopper. An all round quality goalkeeper. The type that helps you win a record breaking 13 games in a row with only 4 goals conceded and TEN clean sheets within that run. The Belgian is set to smash the all-time Premier League record of 21 clean sheets in a season as he currently has 13 in just 22 games. Chelsea’s unbelievable run isn’t all down to him obviously, as the 3 man defence in front of him, along with wing backs and 2 holding midfielders have aided his record considerably. When Courtois has been tested at times this season he hasn’t looked entirely rock solid. The Spurs defeat is a standout moment as he seemed to be afraid of the ball as Dele Alli headed it past him. Was very strange to see

2. Hugo Lloris – Spurs

Very unfortunate to not be No.1 on this list but he does make the odd horrendous blunder. He made two in the same game at Man City which you hardly see from the man who is No.1 further down this page. No doubt though the Frenchman is one of the best keepers in the world and a big reason why Spurs have gone from top 4 dreamers to title challengers in a very short period of time. He is easily the best player the North London club have ever had in goal since the Premier League began, although this isn’t saying much as they have had some shockers. Kasey Keller, really? He has admirers all around the world and it’s a big statement from Spurs that he is totally committed to them, for the near future at least.

1.David De Gea – Man Utd

It just had to be De Gea for No.1. It’s pretty astonishing that he is even still in the Premier League as Real Madrid were more than close to taking him away last year. We are all grateful that they didn’t. Many would say he is the best in the world, that argument is up for debate as Manuel Neuer may have something to say about that, but no one can doubt the Spanish international’s abilities. He is an unbelievable shot stopper and adds countless points onto Man Utd’s Premier League total by saving them time and time again. What really sets him apart is De Gea makes seemingly impossible saves. How many times have we seen him claw a shot destined for the top corner away from goal? No one does it better. He has come a long way from the skinny kid who couldn’t deal with crosses that landed on these shores in 2011.