Take care, Sol

Jean-Marc Bosman’s impact on European football is still felt today. The Belgian footballer didn’t make his mark on the pitch however, but rather, the courtroom. After failing to garner playing time at Liege, Bosman sought a move to French club Dunkerque at the end of the 1990 season. Although Bosman’s contract at Liege had expired, regulations stated a player could not leave his club unless they agreed to let him go.

Unable to accept a blatantly unjust rule that left players powerless, Bosman took his club, the Belgian Football Association and UEFA to court in order to literally gain his freedom. The court ruled in favor in of Bosman and revolutionized European Football in the process. Gone were the quotas that deemed how many foreign players a club could have. And perhaps most importantly, players could now leave on a free transfer at the end of their contracts.

I’ll apologize for that less than complete history of the Bosman ruling, but it leads me to the protagonist of this post, one Sulzeer Jeremiah “Sol” Campbell.

The rivalry between Arsenal and Tottenham didn’t need an escalation in hostility. Supporters of the two clubs live in the same neighborhoods. Families are divided on derby day. There are also the allegations from Spurs fans that Arsenal bought their way into the top division way back in the day – I won’t be tackling that today.

It’s the stuff horribly cheesy movies are made of. It got worse when Sol Campbell decided to act on his desire to play in the Champions League. With advice from then England manager Sven Goran Eriksson, Campbell took the seven minute drive from White Heart Lane to Highbury and in doing so became a pariah in parts of North London. From the ‘esteemed’ Daily Mail which rated him as ‘Football’s greatest traitor‘:

For running down his contract at Tottenham and signing for bitter rivals Arsenal on a free transfer. He could have gone anywhere in the world and he’d still have been revered at White Hart Lane. But he went there and will never be forgiven for it.

Able to negotiate his own transfer thanks to the Bosman ruling, Campbell chose Arsenal after repeatedly denying he was leaving Spurs. The hysteria over his departure distracted from Campbell’s top flight ability.

In 1998 Campbell became England’s second youngest captain. The central defender played every minute in every game in four consecutive international tournaments and was selected for the best eleven in three of those competitions – a feat never accomplished by an Englishman. Arsene Wenger hailed Campbell as Arsenal’s spine during the Gunners glory days of the early aughts.

He would undertake an English odyssey after leaving Arsenal in 2006. Campbell played for Portsmouth, Notts County, Arsenal (again) and finally Newcastle United before announcing his retirement from professional football yesterday.

Throughout his triumphs and successes, Campbell dealt with personal problems that began to limit his passion for a game he was so damn good at. The death of his father, an unexpected child and the arrest of his brother all factored into a halftime walkout during Arsenal’s match against West Ham United in 2006.

The news of Campbell’s retirement reminded me of his partnerships with Tony Adams and Martin Keown and his rock steady defending for a team that would be known forever as The Invincibles.

Good luck on your future endeavors Sol, I hear he’s got the coaching bug, and thanks for the memories.