Football: Campbell takes balanced view

Euro 2000: Defender hungry for more top-class competition faces opponents prepared to make it tough for England; Ambitious centre-back looks for leadership at struggling Spurs to help him improve his already admired play. By Glenn Moore
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The Independent Online
IT IS not just the fear of their footballers returning with injured bodies that concerns club managers in international week, they also worry about their minds.

With time to consider and compare, many have come back demanding a transfer or a rise after discovering that life really is greener on the other side.

Sol Campbell does not intend to demand either a move or a pay rise when he returns to White Hart Lane on Monday, but being away from Tottenham has given him time to reflect on the club's troubles.

As club captain he has strongly defended the team, but yesterday he took the opportunity to speak out and call for leadership and improvement.

Tottenham, he admitted, "were being left behind". Although he remains in no rush to leave, the unspoken, but implicit, threat was that if things did not change for the better he would leave when his contract expires in three years' time if not before.

"Three years ago we had a good team, it was Ossie [Ardiles] and Gerry's [Francis] team and we had reached the FA Cup semi-final and done well in the league. For some reason it all fell apart and we are being left behind.

"I know people move on, you can't help it in football, and we have bought good players, but it is also about chemistry and balance and we haven't had that.

"It is disheartening. There have been games where I've come off the pitch wondering what's happening. You want to play football and get on with it but the situation [the speculation about the futures of the chairman, Alan Sugar, and the club's manager, Christian Gross] is going to be at the back of your mind. Sometimes the lads joke about it, humour is a way footballer's deal with these things, but you have to go out on the pitch and do something about it.

"The fans are hungry. They look at other clubs doing well, spending money and spending it wisely. We have a great squad but the balance is not right. We needed to take the last eight games of last season, when we had some unbelievable performances, and start with them this season."

Campbell would not speak specifically about Gross but said the Swiss had become "more open with players". He added: "Whoever is manager you want them to be able to teach you things. I want to progress as a player, I want all the team to progress and improve, improve me as a player and improve the team."

Does Gross do that? he was asked. "I'll pass on that" was the eventual reply.

Campbell said he had not spoken to Gross or Sugar about how the team might develop... "yet".

Already a highly regarded player, Campbell's stock rose even further after an excellent World Cup, during which he drew praise from Franz Beckenbauer.

With Spurs underachieving there has inevitably been speculation about his future. Blackburn have already had a pounds 10m bid rejected, while Liverpool and Manchester United, who he supported as a boy, have kept an eye on his situation. So, will he move?

"You can move but that is no guarantee of winning things if you do," he said. "It is not as if I am 27, 28; I am 23. And it is not just about winning things, you've got to be happy with the environment. I want the complete package. I have time on my side but you never know in football, I might leave in one year, it might be in eight, if at all.

"What I really want is to stay at Spurs and win things, that would be much more of an achievement. Spurs would be unbelievable if they started winning and, having been there so long, I want to be there when things are happening."

Contentiously, but realistically, he added: "Tottenham have never really won anything. Obviously they've won the FA Cup but they've never been good at the league, except in 1961, and they've had fantastic players since."

This would seem to suggest Campbell's eventual departure is inevitable but he said: "We can win the championship if we get the right team together but it would take a lot of hard work. It is up to the chairman, the manager, and the players, to build a side."

So the pre-season "shopping trip" to Milan, which caused such a stir, really was for shopping. "Yes. I didn't need to tell people I was going, the club are not the police, not my mum and dad. But do you think if I was signing for an Italian club I would blatantly fly to Milan? The story made me laugh."

One of the enduring memories of the World Cup is Campbell in full flight bearing down on the Colombian defence. Only Tottenham fans with long memories will recall him doing this at White Hart Lane but, said Campbell, this is partly because playing as one of three central defenders for England, rather than two for Spurs, gives him more licence to go forward.

Plus, he went to the World Cup determined, after a tough club season, to make an impact. "We'd just escaped relegation and it was from there to the World Cup. It's the biggest competition in the world and you've got to express yourself." Looking towards today's game and European Championship qualifying, he added: "It's made me hungry for more."

SOL CAMPBELL ON MICHAEL OWEN

EARLIER THIS week Michael Owen said Sol Campbell was the toughest opponent he had faced. When the compliment was passed on to Campbell yesterday, he sat back and cooed: "Ooh, that's nice coming from him."

The respect is mutual. Of the Liverpool teenager Campbell said: "He's a bit tricky - and that's the understatement of the century.

"He's a very exciting player. He's got touch, pace, scores goals and he's brave. His size helps him, if someone is big and pacy big guys [like Campbell] can handle him but because he's so small he gets under your arms and he's hard to tackle. Once he gets on your shoulder it's all over."

Campbell has a theory for coping with him. "You have to keep him in front of you but it's hard because there is so much movement on the field. He likes going wide so he can get a run and take on players."

Campbell, like a lot of players, would not be drawn on his hardest opponent. Normally this is because players do not want them to know but Campbell had a different approach. He said: "You can't tell, a player may give you a really hard time one season but the next year you're all over him."

Of possible candidates he said: "Alan Shearer is stronger than Owen and more of a target man. He holds the ball up, lays it off, gets in the box.

"Gianluca Vialli has great movement, John Hartson and Emile Heskey are very strong. But," he concluded "there's no one quite like Owen."

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