“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.
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.
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.
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 quite 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.