Perhaps I’m not the best person to write this post because I clearly have a subjective stance with regard to Sol Campbell. After all, as a Spurs supporter, even after all these years, his defection to Arsenal remains one of the most odious acts of skullduggery committed during this era in football we like to describe as Modern.
Then again, maybe I am. I don’t loathe the man because of the colour of his skin. I do so because he is a duplicitous individual who put self-interest above loyalty. He will forever be tainted by the assurances he gave Spurs that consequently proved hollow once he decided to cross the north London divide. I would feel the same way if that player had been white. Not everything involving a black player is a race issue.
I only bring up that particularly acrimonious event in Spurs’ history because I think it gives you a measure of the individual in question. Campbell has been successful in whipping up a frenzy in the media with his allegations that the Football Association is institutionally racist for having apparently failed to endorse him as a suitable candidate for the England captaincy. According to Campbell he could have been captain for “more than ten years” had he been in possession of a paler shade of skin. Remember, this is a quote from a serialised extract of his forthcoming autobiography. To that end, the comments have achieved their goal in the sense that they have garnered maximum publicity thus alerting casual book readers to its existence. Am I being too cynical? Maybe I am. So let’s look at his comments objectively.
There seems to be an assumption on Campbell’s part, some might even call it hubris, that he was by far and away the obvious choice to lead his country in World Cups and European Championships during his playing career. He feels aggrieved that he was passed over in favour of the likes of Alan Shearer and David Beckham. Think about that. Whatever you may feel about those two, their captaincies were clearly defined by both reputation and marketing. Shearer, despite his flaws, was a convenient throwback. A bustling, brawny centre forward who harked back to a time when footballers were proper men. His persona may have been anachronistic but it allowed fans and sponsors to bask in some rose-tinted ‘old school’ perceptions and however backward–seeming that may have been, it cannot be dismissed as a symptom of racism. In the case of Beckham, if Campbell wants to delude himself into believing he stood a better chance of captaining England over the most recognisable and lucrative brand the game has ever produced, then he is more foolish than I already thought. The colour of money, as they say, is green.
Campbell also feels the need to take a sideswipe at Michael Owen by suggesting:
“[He] was a fantastic forward but nowhere near being a captain. It was embarrassing. I kept asking myself, ‘what have I done?’”
It’s a telling statement because it reveals the swollen levels of Campbell’s ego. Firstly, it seeks to denigrate a fellow professional’s merits. Secondly, it suggests a disproportionate amount of significance he chooses to place on the relatively minor role of the vice-captaincy. Thirdly, and most importantly, it shines a light on Campbell’s confused sense of self-entitlement.
Campbell, however aggrieved he may feel, was lucky enough to captain his country. It cannot be denied that he was a defender of the highest quality. The fact that he did wear the armband suggests that he was held in high regard by the England manager. During his England career, players of the calibre of Gary Neville, David James, Frank Lampard and Ledley King did not perform captaincy duties despite there being a case for each and every one of them to do so. And guess what? Some of those players were, and still are, black.
As were two of the captains he played alongside with at Arsenal. Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry are undoubtedly Arsenal legends. Like Shearer and Beckham in the case of England, they brought different qualities to the role. Vieira was a traditional midfield warrior who led by example whilst Henry was more mercurial, talismanic in his leadership. Campbell could conceivably feel hard done by that he was not chosen by Arsene Wenger above these two but any criticism here would come across as craven haughtiness on his part. That sadly, does not shift books from shelves.
This is not to suggest that racism is non-existent in football. Any proclamations to that end would be rightfully condemned as being beyond ridicule. There is indeed something very wrong with an institution when it simultaneously bans a player for racially abusing another player but allows him to then resume his international career without much consequence. I agree that there should be more black managers and coaches in the game. People should be ejected from stadia if they subject players and other supporters to racial vilification. These are points that I need not have to make because any rational, sane human being believes them to be so.
Sol Campbell clearly believes that it was his colour that played a part in stymieing his international career. Has he ever considered that there might be other factors? Perhaps he was a loner who did not possess the requisite skills to unite a disparate squad of personalities who played together infrequently? Perhaps some managers valued his qualities as a defender but did not rate him as a person? What if some even had their personal favourites? Just because Sol Campbell feels he was overlooked, it does not mean that there is a case for the FA to answer with regard to the England captaincy. I’m aware at this point that I could be accused of falling into the trap of conjecture but the same accusation could also be leveled at Campbell’s allegations.
If Campbell has concrete evidence, he should make it known. Otherwise, he deserves to be dismissed as an opportunistic chancer who’s said a few controversial things in a book. For money. Empty words, yet again. I stopped taking anything that man had to say seriously the day he signed for Arsenal. Some things really are that black and white. Like I said, perhaps I’m not the best person to have written this post.
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