Football Euro 2000: Cool Campbell can handle Hampden heat

PLAY-OFF SHOWDOWN Tottenham defender's calm assurance in the most intense situations makes him a key figure for England today
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The Independent Online
WHILE THE sight of one of his central defenders, Martin Keown, seeing the red mist, and then a red card, during the north London derby cannot have pleased Kevin Keegan, there was ample consolation for the England coach at White Hart Lane last Sunday.

At the other end of the pitch, keeping his head while all about him were losing theirs, was Sol Campbell. Calm and resolute amid the maelstrom, his presence and abilities were one of the main reasons for Tottenham's victory.

This afternoon, at Hampden Park, Keegan will be looking for a similar performance from the mature 25-year-old. "I am a massive fan of him," said the England coach yesterday. "He's only a young man but he's a man. I was delighted when he was fit to be in the squad. He's a great player."

Campbell agreed that, given the intensity of last week's derby match, it was ideal preparation for this afternoon. "I expect it will be like a derby," he said. "That's good, you want to play in those kind of games. They can be quite frantic and anything goes but you don't want to lose it too much. You want to keep a cool head."

Though the sight of the normally restrained Paul Lambert crashing into Jorg Albertz in the Glasgow derby, and out of today's game, shows that anyone can have mad moments, Campbell's cool head would seem to be guaranteed.

Seasoned reporters, when canvassed, could not remember ever seeing him lose his head. Neither could he - even in his teenage days he recalls being "level-headed".

"Everyone has a breaking point," he added, "for some people it's higher, some lower. No one has ever got under my skin. Obviously, people say things from time to time through your career, or the crowd, or whatever, but I just bite my lip and get on with it.

"There is a lot of things happening in the world, you look at those situations and think to yourself: `It is not all happening to me, there is a lot worse things happening in the world.' That just puts everything into perspective.

"In a match you obviously don't want to get sent off, or booked, because if you do get booked you're on the back foot, you can be hesitant in certain tackles."

Having been cautioned in Bulgaria, Campbell will be suspended for the second match at Wembley if he is booked today, but he added: "You don't think about that when you go out on the pitch. You want to play your best for the cause, for the team."

The performance against Arsenal was particularly encouraging because, when he first returned from the Achilles injury he suffered on the opening day of the season, he had played poorly against Sunderland. "It is looking good," he said. "Obviously after 10 weeks out it is pretty hard because I'm behind most players. But I'm getting stronger and fitter every week and getting used to playing in the position again."

A former pupil of the FA School of Excellence, Campbell always appeared destined to make an impact on the game, the only question was where. As a youngster he played in attack and midfield, and when he first came into the Tottenham team he often featured at right-back, a role which Jurgen Klinsmann thought was his best and which, it has been speculated, could be repeated by Keegan this afternoon.

Campbell, himself, is diplomatic. "I've not played there for five years but if he asks me to play out of position that doesn't matter. The same applies to playing in a back three or a four - I've no preference. Whatever the gaffer picks, I just go with the flow."

This diplomacy has been hard-learned. On a previous interview when he was away with England in Sweden, he was drawn into criticising the former Tottenham manager, Christian Gross. The Swiss was then sacked by Spurs on the day the interview appeared. This time the controversial issue is Campbell's own future, but there is no comment from him whatsoever on the subject of his new contract, and whether he will sign it.

Spurs will hope he does, for Campbell is the bulwark of their side. In their favour is George Graham's influence: Campbell said the manager, a reknown defensive coach, had been good for him. He added: "He has done it at Arsenal, done it at Leeds. So why can't he do it at Tottenham?"

For now the focus is England. Campbell, who was given his debut in the build-up to Euro 96, will be winning his 28th cap, two of which were as captain. Since his mistake against Italy at Wembley in February 1997, which allowed Gian- franco Zola to score, he has been a consistent performer, playing particularly well during the World Cup.

However, his biggest weakness, like many English defenders, is his distribution. If he can improve on that, his forward runs, which at the moment promise more than they achieve, could become a major asset.

Campbell's experience of Scottish football is very limited. He came on for the last five minutes - as a substitute for Jamie Redknapp - in the Euro 96 victory, and has played a pre-season friendly against Hearts at Tynecastle.

He also has a Scottish manager but, unlike Alex Ferguson, Graham has not engaged in any pre-match joshing. Perhaps, that is because he is waiting to see who wins. Maybe it is because he knows that whatever he says, he is unlikely to get Campbell to bite.