In his own words, this has been a tough season for Sol Campbell, but on the eve of Arsenal's most important match in their 120-year history the Arsenal and England centre-back is relaxed, calm and confident.
Like his team-mates Jose Antonio Reyes and Ashley Cole, Campbell has suffered this season. Calf and ankle injuries and loss of form put his World Cup place in jeopardy. Personal problems threatened to end his career. However, after two months off during which he worked hard to regain form and fitness, he has recovered, returning stronger and more determined.
Tonight's Champions' League final marks the end of a long journey for Campbell. Long enough "to write a book on it," he said. "It's been difficult - there's no two ways about it. There's been highs and lows, but I've sorted myself out playing-wise and health-wise. You take the highs and the lows but when the lows come you do learn more and get tougher. And you have to be. Year by year, football outside the game gets more difficult. You've got to balance the pressure from outside with pressure on the football field."
After the infamous walk-out against West Ham in February, when Campbell substituted himself after a terrible first half, the Newham-born defender has turned his head and performances around. Most importantly, he is injury-free. "It's much better when you haven't any niggles or injuries that stop you from playing," he said. "It's nice not to have them in the back of your mind. You get confidence from a run of games."
Since his return from injury last month in the 1-1 draw against Portsmouth, Campbell has played in four of the last seven games and missed the other two only because of a broken nose suffered in that comeback game. "It was a bit difficult getting caught twice in one game," he said. "The blood was pouring out like a tap. I wasn't worried because you can get over a broken nose in about two and a half weeks. But it wasn't nice."
Smooth is not how Campbell would describe his last few games. With four goals conceded, rusty might be a better summation. Nevertheless, his displays, and an injury to Philippe Senderos which ruled him out of the last four games, make Campbell favourite to start tonight against Barcelona - and Ronaldinho.
Campbell remembers the name well: the Brazilian set up the equaliser and scored the winner when England lost 2-1 to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup quarter-final. "I've only played him that once," Campbell said. "You've got to give him a tussle and be tight with niggles and little bites," Campbell said. "But he doesn't react - he's very level-headed. You just can't allow him too much time on the ball and the same goes for other players they've got."
Like Samuel Eto'o and Ludovic Giuly, the other forwards. "They keep the ball. They get their angles so you've got to get your angles right. I'm sure everybody's going to be alert and ready for them," Campbell predicted.Reuse content