Sol Campbell
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Sol Campbell says England have ‘got to get to Euros final’, looks back at ‘missed opportunity’ in 2004 and issues ‘come and get me’ managerial plea to clubs

| 07.06.2021

Sol Campbell won the Premier League twice with Arsenal and played over 70 games for England.

We spoke to the former defender to find out what he expects from England at the Euros, what’s missing at the Gunners and what he’s looking for in his next managerial role.

How many players are guaranteed starters v Croatia

I think there are still positions up for grabs in the back line because Harry Maguire is touch and go. John Stones has had a fantastic season, winning the Premier League and reaching the Champions League final. The right-back scenario is obviously the difficult one. On the left side it looks like Luke Shaw has that position sewn up.

In midfield, it’s a real difficult one. It depends what system Gareth Southgate wants to play. Jordan Henderson is a very experienced player and a fantastic captain, but is he going to anchor that midfield in the opening game having not played that much? The manager is currently going to be running through all kinds of scenarios. Does Henderson play for the first 60 minutes just for that stability and experience in the middle, or does he come on later to shut up shop for the last 20 minutes?

You know Harry Kane is going to play, but who is going to join him? I don’t think there’ll be too many surprises in that starting line-up; for me the main thing is getting the system right. You want the team to just be solid, and it’s about growing throughout the tournament – you don’t want your best game of the tournament to be the first game. It’s about building and progressing with every game.

I think with Jordan Pickford, all Gareth Southgate needs to do is remind him he’s his number one. You’ve got to give him confidence, regardless of what’s happened at Everton, Pickford is England’s number one. That’s what players need to hear at these vital moments in big tournaments.

It would be silly not to start Foden v Croatia

I think Phil Foden has proven himself and he should be right there in the starting line-up for England. He’s had an incredible season, going from strength to strength – he’s fit and he’s featured a lot, so it would be silly to muck around with him.

Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling are now experienced players in Gareth Southgate’s squad; they’ve seen it and they’ve been here before. Once that first game is upon us, those two will be chomping at the bit and I’m hoping Southgate does pick them. Experience counts for everything in these tournaments. You can always bring youngsters on; it’s just about finding that right blend of experience and youth.

You’ve also got to look at how you’re managing the squad in the tournament as a whole; you don’t want to go out and release all of your energy in that first game. You want guys who can control the game in that first match, players who aren’t going to be phased by the atmosphere. Sometimes that atmosphere can take a lot out of you if you’re not careful; you really want those experienced players on the pitch who aren’t going to go all out and are more than happy to let the ball do the work. You’ve got to let the pressure become your friend, because it is another level at this stage.

I think you’ve got the pressure on the team in this tournament; we’ve got to get to the final. With the team we’ve got, and that home advantage, we’ve got to be a little bit confident. The majority of the fans are behind you in the stadiums. As long as no one is too sure of themselves, we should be getting to the final, really.

Yes there’s a tough couple of potential knockout games in there on route to the final, in fact I think in some ways it’s actually a tougher competition to win than the World Cup, because you’re coming up against quality sides as early as the first knockout stage. With the World Cup, sometimes you might not meet those top teams until the semi-finals if you’re luck’s in, but with the Euros, you find yourself up against these tougher teams a lot quicker.

I wish VAR was around in 2004

I watch the goals from that game against Portugal in 2004 from time to time; looking back it was an excellent game. We were in their back garden and so the pressure was on, but the players responded. For me it comes down to moments. It was a backwards and forwards kind of game, and we were lucky that Frank Lampard kept us in it with a late equaliser.

But for me personally, I go back to that moment where the ball comes up and I’m looking to score, I get what I think is a winning goal with about five minutes to go and it’s disallowed. In fact, I actually watched the game recently, and I had another chance I should have scored. It comes down to those moments again. We played a really good game but it just came down to that referee decision. I know you can’t always blame referees, but sometimes I wish VAR was around at the time – I really do – because at least then we can have a proper debate, he can stop and have a proper look and he’d have probably changed his decision.

The ball is spinning in a different direction to where the goalkeeper is; for me you can’t say it’s an infringement. John Terry’s not going to jump out of the way. And then you see what happens in other games for other countries where players are blocking goalkeepers but it doesn’t get seen and goals are given. You are allowed to stand your ground; John Terry can’t just move out of the way because the goalkeeper’s coming. He’s allowed to stay in that position; he’s not impeding the goalkeeper. The ball’s gone over him and he’s got no chance of getting it. I just wish VAR was around.

How Euro 2004 aftermath affected Sol

For me there’s a real sadness attached to Euro 2004. Some players are very lucky to be in the right team at the right time, and they find themselves winning World Cups, European Cups, Champions League and things like that. I wasn’t in that scenario, and as you get older you start to wonder how many more opportunities you’ve got left.

Depending on where you play, you’ve maybe got three or four stabs at winning something big for your country, so it sticks with you. You can’t enjoy your summer because you’re thinking about what could’ve been. As time goes on that feeling starts to go away but you still feel like it’s one thing less in your trophy cabinet.

It’s a shame. We had a fantastic team, but we never got the rub of the green. You can do everything humanly possible to make sure you’re prepared, but then one of your forwards or your main wingers gets injured. Yes, of course, that can happen to any country, but it seemed to happen to us quite a lot and I think we needed all of our top players on the pitch to ever give us the best chance.

England are ‘due some luck’ in a major tournament

Losing a game like that against Portugal in 2004 is just devastating. There’s just a feeling of emptiness in your gut. It’s all over your emotions, and yes you have to try and lift the other guys but you’re in a bad way.

You’re in a bad way because there’s not many times in your career where you’re in a position like that, where you’ve got a great bunch of players around you and you’ve got the chance to win a major tournament. That’s the thing. There are countries that get to the finals and don’t have a lot to play for; it’s just about the experience for them of playing three games at a major tournament. But when you’ve got a big chance and it doesn’t happen for you, of course it hurts.

I still look back at it to this day, because it was a missed opportunity. It’s gone, and that opportunity will never come back again. For me I just hope that England do really well, get to the final and win it, because every other country seems to have had their moment, so it would be quite nice for us to do the same. It’d be nice to just see us get a bit of luck for once, we’re due it! Sometimes it comes down to that.

If my winning goal against Portugal is allowed, then the world really is our oyster; you don’t know what’s going to happen but we’d have headed into our next game knowing we’re 90 minutes away from a final. We had such a great mentality among the top players and I think if we’d have reached the semis, we’d have got to that final. By hook or by crook we’d have got in, and then we’d have played our best game ever in the final. We just never got that chance.

It’s not always down to the referee; sometimes we’ve just not played the best football. But there’s a couple of moments where we should’ve really progressed, and that Portugal game was one of them.

‘When I was at Arsenal we had a team of tough guys… I don’t know whether things have softened now’

Even before I joined the club, Arsenal had a wonderful history, they’d enjoyed great success in the Premier League as well as some huge European nights. When I joined the club I just enjoyed being surrounded by top, top players and contributing to that, – being a big part of it.

Obviously that is not there at the moment. When I was there we had a team full of tough guys, all great gentlemen, straight-talking. There were loads of characters, great banter and with that came a few fights from time to time. But above all that, it was a team full of great personalities; great people.

We didn’t shy away from things at all. Is football like that now? Are Arsenal like that now? I don’t think so. We were ruthless gentlemen. There is such a thing; you know what’s good and what’s bad but when it comes to football there’s no mucking around. It’s as simple as that. Does the club want to start again, forgetting about how Arsenal of old used to win? You have to ask the guys at the top. It’s a different time now.

It was extremely tough when we were playing; I don’t know whether things have softened now. Has life softened? Regardless, you still need those players with that fight inside of them who can go away to Burnley on a windy midweek night and get a result.

Who is going to change Arsenal Football Club? I think they need to have a look around the place at some of the senior players there. Do they keep a couple of players around to help bring on the youngsters? You can’t just go and get rid of all of your experienced players. I see the likes of Hector Bellerin and Granit Xhaka being linked with moves away but both have been a core part of that team for some time now. You don’t want to sever ties completely with players like that because otherwise there’ll be no one around who can teach new signings and younger players the ways of the club.

Hector has been a fantastic player for Arsenal, Xhaka has been great as well. If it’s a matter of keeping people around for another year or so, you may as well keep hold of those two as they know the club inside out. David Luiz is gone now. Is he another one that could’ve stuck around? I don’t know, but obviously the club and player have made the decision to part ways. If you start taking too many of those names out, who is going to teach the youngsters what it means to play for Arsenal? I personally think Bellerin and Xhaka will stay on for another year.

Conor Coady is definitely someone Arsenal should try and sign this summer

There’s a lot of players out there who can fit the Arsenal mould. Conor Coady is a good player; he’s comfortable on the ball, he’s a winner. He’s definitely got the kind of mentality Arsenal should be looking at in new players. He’s definitely someone they should look at because he’s so solid, he wants to defend. He can pass as well, he’s quick, he’s strong, he’s good in the air. He’s a good all-rounder and he’s got a bit about him.

He’s at a good club now in Wolves, but he’s actually someone I’d be looking at for Arsenal this summer. He’s got a great attitude as well, and I like that.

Arsenal should learn from Leicester in this summer’s transfer window

I think Arsenal need to buy clever this summer. It’s clear the spending power isn’t there; it’s nowhere near the levels other clubs are willing to spend, so they’ve got to look at that next level down. But in that next level you can still find decent players. They’re just got to look a little bit harder. Leicester do it. Arsenal need the right people out there looking at players.

The club doesn’t have the funds to take a risk on a player for £50/60m for it not to work out. But look at what Leicester have done in recent years; they don’t really tend to spend more than £30m on players and more often than not they’ve got it right.

A lot of teams take risks on spending smaller amounts on players and giving them a bit of time to develop. Look at Atalanta in Italy, Ajax have been doing it for decades, and now Leicester are doing the same in the Premier League.

Returning to Arsenal in 2011 – ‘no one wanted to stand up and take the blame’

For me, when I returned to the club in 2011, the first thing I noticed about the squad was that the age was considerably lower. There were lots of 18, 19, 20-year-olds, but the focus felt like it had slowly shifted. Also the responsibility of the players shifted as well. No one wanted to stand up and take the blame. Everyone was shying away from that. If you want to solve problems like that, you’ve got to nip them in the bud straight away.

I just felt things were dragging on and taking far too long to rectify, and once that seeps in it’s very hard to get rid of it.

But I think they’re trying to turn things around again and get the club performing better. They’ve got some very good players there, they just need to improve on those performances.

I can’t get any more badges… I just want to utilise my knowledge and express who I am as a manager

The next thing for me is finding a club that wants and needs a manager like me. A manager like me is someone who’s going to bring heart and soul and technical ability. I’m a winner, and I’ve done it under pressure. I’ve got an understanding of players, too. I understand data and I see things with the naked eye, and together that’s a fantastic formula for a manager. I can give players that little bit of extra knowledge which will help them on the pitch.

I just want a stable club; I don’t need a massive club in the Premier League with huge budgets; I just want a stable club where I can bring some loans in, or even some freebies. I’ve got contacts, but if you’re working at clubs with embargos, you can’t bring any players in. You can get players off your books, but you can’t bring people in, not even on frees. So I just want a club that’s got themselves sorted out.

Even a League One side who are really strong and are prepared to make a good go of getting out of the division, I’m prepared to listen to that. I just want to manage, I want to be able to pass all of my knowledge on. I want to utilise my knowledge and express who I am as a manager.

I’ve got all of my badges. I worked out in Holland at Ajax when Dennis Bergkamp was there; I spent a couple of weeks out there watching players and looking at everything behind the scenes and how the club is run. I’ve been to Italy a couple of times, to Sampdoria and AC Milan, watching them train and taking notes. Recently I went to watch Brazil play Germany and I was taking notes there, I’ve also been doing some training at QPR as well. I’ve got all my badges. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity. I can’t get any more badges, I just need experience now.

I’ve seen other people get big jobs, some have done well and some haven’t done so well, and the ones that haven’t done so well have still managed to spin into another job, and then into another job, and so on. I’m just waiting for the right opportunity. I’ll keep on knocking on the door, putting my CV in places until something clicks and someone gets me, and I get them, and they’re looking for someone like me.

A lot of people get knockbacks, so I just have to keep on knocking on the door and hopefully something will come my way. I really want to find a club where they get me, we click and there are a decent group of players with real potential and I can do something at the club.

I don’t want to have to keep putting out fires every week at clubs I manage; I want to focus on improving players and getting wins on the board, getting a team into a promotion position and challenging for league titles. I just need a chance to show what I can do, really.

I don’t know how I managed to keep Macclesfield Town in League Two in that first year. Well, I do know, quite bluntly, I did it myself. I had Andy Cole in and a couple of other people to help me but most of the time I was doing it all on my own, working morning, noon and night, giving everyone encouragement.

I sorted out deals for the club to be able to track stats and data on the players because the club didn’t have any money. I had to do a lot of work to sort out deals so I could keep on top of how much ground my guys are running in training and in games. I did a lot of stuff behind the scenes to get that club going. There was a lot of encouragement needed there. But then you have all the issues with wages, and people not training, and sometimes the players didn’t want to play. I had to deal with all of that. It was a real eye-opener and it really stripped things back for me, not just as a football manager but as a human being.

I got through that experience – it was tough – and it’s not really a scenario I want to be involved in again, I just want to get on with managing. In the end Southend came along, and they’re a good club, but I just didn’t know the depths of what was happening behind the scenes. I was led to believe things were stable, but that wasn’t the case.

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