Campbell's role: captain miraculous

Ageless striker follows manager's 'marvel' route against his old friends today
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The Independent Football

In the days when he led the Manchester United team, Bryan Robson was known as Captain Courageous. Perhaps on the principle that it takes one to know one, Robson appointed Kevin Campbell captain of West Bromwich Albion soon after signing the striker on a free transfer from Everton in January. Now Robson the manager hopes that Campbell, whose leadership is as proven as his scoring consistency, will help lift the Baggies away from the relegation they have looked like suffering for most of a bleak season.

In the days when he led the Manchester United team, Bryan Robson was known as Captain Courageous. Perhaps on the principle that it takes one to know one, Robson appointed Kevin Campbell captain of West Bromwich Albion soon after signing the striker on a free transfer from Everton in January. Now Robson the manager hopes that Campbell, whose leadership is as proven as his scoring consistency, will help lift the Baggies away from the relegation they have looked like suffering for most of a bleak season.

This afternoon's home game against Everton marks the start of what Campbell calls "our eight-game season," the last push to avoid the drop. How appropriate that sleeves will be rolled up against his old club, the club who were saved from relegation six years ago by the input of goals and commitment by a certain Kevin Campbell. He had arrived, initially on loan, from the Turkish club Trabzonspor in late March 1999 with eight games to go and Everton just outside the bottom three. They survived, Campbell having scored nine goals in those eight games.

"It would be nice to see lightning strike twice," Campbell agreed, though he refutes any suggestion that West Brom are in need of a miracle, or indeed someone capable of working one. West Brom's recent form, he says, has been solid, and the 4-1 win at Charlton a fortnight ago provided the final injection of confidence. "We have been playing well but couldn't push on to score goals. That day we did. Now we have to pick up three, four wins. There's a strong parallel with what happened to me at Everton in 1999.

"The Everton game is obviously a personal thing for me, but that doesn't detract from the fact that three points are at stake and we need to grab them. We have to be hungrier on the day than Everton. When I came here I saw what good players the club have, but now the hunger is there to win games, and my first priority is to try to captain the club to stay up."

Robson's decision to appoint him as captain did not surprise Campbell, a 35-year-old who excelled for Arsenal and Nottingham Forest before his Turkish venture and who learned plenty with those two clubs before Walter Smith handed him the captain's armband at Goodison. "I like responsibility, I'm not a ranter but I speak to people and put my point across. No manager has to worry about me. Sometimes a manager has to go and do those jobs a captain does, but with me that's not necessary. I will be trying to do their job, talking to people after training and before a game, and keeping a good spirit. Spirit is everything, especially when you are in the doldrums, and we have that spirit.

"My experience of captains goes back to people like David O'Leary and Tony Adams at Arsenal. Tony used to make a point of going round to every player, making sure they were focused. That's a piece of Adams I have kept because I do that. And at Forest, Stuart Pearce was a great captain. You have to learn from somebody like him.

"Even though I'm 35, which is pensionable age in football, I still want to be the focal point of the team. If I'm not scoring goals I want to be setting them up, I want to lead the line and to know people can give me the ball and trust me with it. I am one of the old-fashioned centre-forwards, as it were - give it to me and play off me.

"That's something which is going out of the game, but the number of teams who need that sort of style is growing. Not everyone can have a Thierry Henry, people like that cost too much money. Why not get an old guy like me who can do the job?" he grinned.

Campbell says he felt sympathy, as well as recognition, when he watched Michael Owen struggle through a wretched evening for England last Wednesday. "It happens to every striker, even though in games like that you don't want your touch to desert you," he asserted. "What happened to Michael has happened to me loads of times, too many to remember. Some days you can't hit a barn door, other times you just touch the ball and it goes in, off any part of your anatomy. It's just one of those things."

Having signed a contract for 18 months, Campbell is due another full season at the Hawthorns. He relishes the prospect. "Another year in the Premiership, great. But whether I play or not I am 100 per cent behind the club, and that's important for any player, to want to be a part of the squad, because football is getting to be a squad game now.

"Every season the Premiership standard gets higher, so if we become the first club ever to stay up after being bottom at the turn of the year, that would be fantastic. It would show other clubs what could be done when they are written off. All the odds are against it, but I feel the only way is up for West Brom. I don't gamble, but I truly believe we are going to get out of it." If that happens, says Captain Courageous Mark II, it would be the finest achievement of his long career.

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