Graham Kelly: Eriksson's defence of Campbell is misplaced sympathy

Maybe there has been a cunning plan to chip away at the FA's firm line
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The Independent Football

Sir Alf Ramsey was a manager who famously defended his players in times of adversity. Faced with pressure from the Football Association and football's world governing body, Fifa, to withdraw Nobby Stiles from the England team for the World Cup 1966 quarter-final against Argentina after the little midfielder's late tackle on France's Jacques Simon in the previous match, he threatened to resign.

Sir Alex Ferguson, too, has long been renowned for his ferocious loyalty to players under the public spotlight, although even he felt compelled to admit that, on the occasion of their vein-throbbing, finger-jabbing pursuit of the referee Andy D'Urso, his men had overstepped the mark.

But the case of Sol Campbell started the stomach churning in a way the victory over Croatia could not entirely dispel.

"I think he has been extremely unlucky at the end of last season and the beginning of this one," said the England coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, of Campbell's disciplinary problems, taking his cue no doubt from the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, who had claimed that the defender could not believe what was happening to him.

What was happening, last season, was that an inordinate degree of pressure was exerted on the FA by the Arsenal board to avoid Campbell having to serve his four-match suspension for elbowing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Now, in the new season, Campbell has been charged with misconduct on the recommendation of the FA's video advisory panel for his retaliatory kick at Manchester United's Eric Djemba-Djemba in the FA Community Shield match. This offence, if proven, could attract a three-match ban, though there are suggestions that a commission may impose a lesser penalty.

Perhaps all the fuss that is being created has a purpose after all. Rather in the manner of the notorious Leeds United team of Don Revie whose players would take turns to test the referee's patience, maybe there has been a cunning plan to chip away at the FA's firm line over Campbell.

First, Wenger complained. That would be like water off a duck's back to any disciplinary veteran. Then Campbell enjoyed the unique and unprecedented privilege not of being summoned to a disciplinary meeting, as sometimes occurred on past occasions with errant players (Ian Wright and Paul Gascoigne spring to mind), but of effectively convening a get-together himself of the FA hierarchy - the chief executive, Mark Palios, Eriksson, and director of football, David Davies - at the England team headquarters in Essex prior to last week's match in order that the disciplinary procedures could be explained to him. His agent, Sky Andrew, subsequently assured a breathless world that Campbell remained "passionate" about playing for his country.

Finally, Patrick Vieira, his Arsenal team-mate, brought his influence to bear on the debate by claiming that it was only Arsenal that the television cameras highlighted.

Eriksson was right when he prefaced his comments by stressing that Campbell was not a dirty player. Sure, he is not normally a dirty player, but he was caught out by the referee on one occasion and the camera on the other breaking the laws, and for Eriksson to say he was unlucky is indulgent nonsense. It is misplaced sympathy. Campbell's misdemeanour may indeed be adjudged worthy of only a one-match ban, but had it been committed while playing for England the consequences could have been greater.

As chief executive of the FA I had some experience of an England coach going out on a limb to support a player who felt himself unfairly targeted by the disciplinary process as a result of television. In 1998 Alan Shearer, playing for Newcastle, reacted angrily to a foul by Leicester's Neil Lennon.

The incident was widely shown on television and looked bad. It seemed that the striker had aimed a kick at Lennon and, after discussions at Lancaster Gate, I decided to place the case before a disciplinary commission.

There was predictable hullabaloo that the England captain was in hot water. Shearer himself apparently took particular offence at being charged with an offence by his England employers when he protested his innocence.

Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, intervened, saying that the kick was unintentional and telling me privately that Shearer was saying he would not go to France for the World Cup if he were charged. If that happened, Hoddle would consider his own position.

Like Vieira, Shearer felt that action only resulted because of the high profile he enjoyed. As far as I am aware the members of the disciplinary commission were not told about these conversations when they met. They accepted Shearer's explanation.

It will be interesting to see what happens if David Beckham should get sent off in future. Though, judging from the deference that was beginning to be shown to the current England captain by certain international referees last season, that may be unlikely.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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