Flash back to July, 2009. Sven-Göran Eriksson had just taken over as manager at the newly-loaded Notts County. The media, abuzz with League Two Fever, were quick to proclaim that within five years, Notts County would be in the Premier League, that the combination of truckloads of cash and the Swede would prove too much for the competition. One thing, of course, was missing: the players. Enter Sol Campbell, recently of Portsmouth. One appearance later, and knowledge gained, exit Sol Campbell, recently of Notts County.
Who'd have thought that when he came to London Colney a month later to train, that his stay would become a bit more involved? Certainly not I, but after four months, I'd love for him to stay another year.
After starting a reserve game against West Ham, his signing was confirmed on the 15th of January. He was the fifth player in all of Arsenal's history to re-sign with the club after having moved elsewhere. Initially billed as a squad player and dressing room presence who would lend his experience to the younger members at the back such as Vermaelen, Djourou, Bartley, and Eastmond, circumstances dictated that he would play a much larger role for the rest of the season.
A 3-1 defeat at Stoke in the FA Cup led many to question the big center back after his first start for Arsenal since 2006. Critics questioned his pace and his stamina, and anxieties ran high after the transfer window closed with Campbell the only major signing that Wenger had completed. Injuries to William Gallas opened a window for Campbell to continue to feature, and in the leg away at Porto in the Champions League, Campbell's header opened the scoring before the match turned into a Laurel and Hardy film.
As the season has drawn closer to its finish, Gallas' lingering calf issues have allowed Campbell to start alongside Vermaelen and Silvestre. In a total of nine league appearances since January, he has only grown stronger, silencing his early doubters. His pace, while not what it was, of course, has been surprising at times, and his presence in the air remains strong. At 36, most wouldn't select him ahead of Gallas and Vermaelen, but he has been a force when deputizing for either one.
I would argue, though, that even more than his abilities at center back, it has been Campbell's mental presence that has proven the most valuable. He never stops fighting. His confidence and encouragement are infectious. (And I am not implying that other players don't have fight in them; we've seen far too many last-minute victories this year to think otherwise). This is evident in his words yesterday in The Guardian:
I am sure that, once everything comes together, there will be no stopping Arsenal winning trophies season after season. You have to truly believe in your skill and trust that you can do something. Wherever we finish, we will have to build on it and keep on going.
His belief in the abilities of the young players is great to hear; this is a man, after all, who along with only Ryan Giggs and David James, has played in all 18 EPL seasons. Seeing him on the pitch before the Man City match on Saturday, walking amongst the other starters, clapping his hands, and singing along with the supporters, was truly wonderful.
Campbell has admitted that he does not know if Wenger intends to bring him back for another season. I would argue, though, that Wenger should seriously consider bringing him back as a backup central defender, and if he doubts Campbell's ability or age, that he should bring him back as a coach, a coach driver, an intern, anything. If I had doubts about his mental state after the events against West Ham in 2006, I feel the opposite now. I would love to see Sol back next year. Would you?