Kevin Campbell: Striking a balance between rhythm and the Blues at Goodison

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For a sports management agency that has earned so much notoriety, Paul Stretford's Pro-Active group occupies a surprisingly ordinary, anonymous office building in Wilmslow, Cheshire.

For a sports management agency that has earned so much notoriety, Paul Stretford's Pro-Active group occupies a surprisingly ordinary, anonymous office building in Wilmslow, Cheshire.

It is Pro-Active, you will recall, in which a number of football managers have or have had shares, leading to accusations of, at best, conflicts of interest.

Pro-Active's clients include fledgling superstars Wayne Rooney and John O'Shea; whoever the shareholders might be, plenty of influence is wielded in this ordinary, anonymous building.

I am here to meet another client, the 34-year-old Everton striker Kevin Campbell. Now, I don't doubt that Pro-Active look after Campbell's interests as diligently as they do everyone else's, but Campbell can look after himself, too.

Next month, the record label he co-founded and co-owns, 2 Wikid, is due to release its debut single, "Backstabbers", a remix by Panjabi MC of Mark Morrison's song.

Wikid's thing, explains Campbell, is urban music. R&B, mainly, and soul. He has signed up Morrison, the R&B singer-songwriter who had a No 1 hit with "Return of the Mack" in 1996, on a three-album deal.

Indeed, there are rumours that he has invested £10m of his own money in 2 Wikid. He doesn't deny it. "It can go to that," he says. "But if you don't shoot, you don't score."

I find myself nodding solemnly. That's right, if you don't shoot, you don't score. And Campbell has always had an eye for goals. But if he has a spare £10m to pump into his record label then either he or somebody else has managed his finances pretty smartly down the years.

As fine a player as he has been, and as well as he has been remunerated by Everton - and before Everton the Turkish club Trabzonspor, Nottingham Forest and Arsenal - £10m is a lot of dough, as they say on the funky streets of Wilmslow.

Campbell is aware, too, that the relationship between footballers and music has rarely been a successful one; think Hoddle and Waddle, think Big Ron Atkinson, think John Barnes doing his excruciating Anfield Rap.

"There's a certain stigma attached to footballers in music, all those FA Cup final songs," Campbell concedes with a wince. "But that's football, this is music. The distinction is very important to me because this has to have credibility. And I don't do any singing myself."

I wonder, can he think of a single FA Cup final or World Cup song that he has enjoyed? A short pause. "No."

What about my own favourite, "Back Home", as performed by members of England's 1970 World Cup squad? Campbell looks blank. "I don't know it. That was the year I was born." Put in my place, with the assistance of a Zimmer frame, I change the subject slightly. Who is the Wayne Rooney of urban music?

"We believe we've got him, although I'm not going to mention names yet. The person I can mention who is going to take the game to the next level is Mark Morrison. We're lucky to have him. He nearly signed with other record companies."

Campbell sounds, I venture, just like a football club chairman purring over his exciting new signing. "Yeah, I know. It's similar. We can't compete with the major labels. We're not a Manchester United, an Arsenal or a Chelsea, which in this business is Sony, Warner Brothers and Universal. So we have to do it differently. We've got to scour the streets, which maybe they don't have time to do. We've got to build an Ajax system, get 'em in young and develop them."

In the meantime, of course, he has a distinguished football career to nurse towards its conclusion. And as delighted as I am that he is planning so admirably for his life after football, as an Evertonian myself I would hate to think that his mind is more on the rhythm than the Blues.

"There's no danger of that," he says. "I'm always the first into the training ground and I might make a couple of calls from the car park, but once I'm out of the car I would never let it interfere with football. I've got to be giving Everton 100 per cent."

I'm pleased to hear it. After all, there is a place for Campbell in the hearts of most Everton fans, following the nine goals in eight games he scored when on loan from Trabzonspor, which did so much to stave off relegation in the 1998-99 season.

He has bagged plenty of important goals since being signed permanently, too, although this season he has been deployed mainly from the bench. It does not upset him, he insists.

"It happens. I've been in football a long time. It's not my style to get despondent about it. My style is to support whoever's playing, and to hope that they look at you and think, 'If I'm ever left out I'd like to follow his lead, and not whine about it'.

"Also, I'm going to be making some decisions [in the music business] that people ain't going to like. You deal with it."

Whatever his perspective, Campbell must have an explanation for why Everton have, so far, failed to build on the promise of last season?

"I haven't," he says. "We don't know. We prepare just the same, train just the same, but last season we were winning 1-0 and this season we've been losing 1-0. But we've won our last two [against Aston Villa and Portsmouth] and we've got more winnable games coming up [starting today at Leicester City, a club where Campbell spent time on loan while on Arsenal's books]. If we can string four or five wins together then we're challenging for Europe again. Blackburn pipped us for a European place last season; after quite a bad start, they finished like a train. We can do the same."

As for the would-be train driver, David Moyes, Campbell emphasises the impact the Everton manager made after he succeeded the man who is now Sir Alex Ferguson's number two, Walter Smith.

"David Moyes wanted us to press teams high up the pitch, which suited the players. Walter Smith wanted us to play [creatively], but if you're not playing well, what do you fall back on? David Moyes had studied the tapes.

"He said that our wide men were playing as full-backs and our full-backs as centre-halves. And your wide men can't do no damage when they're picking the ball up 80 yards from goal."

For all his tactical astuteness, though, Moyes was also lucky that his arrival at Goodison Park coincided with Rooney's coming of Premiership age.

And so for the predictable question. Campbell has played with and against some great strikers down the years: just how good is his young teammate?

"Wayne's scary," he says. "I played with Ian Wright, who's still the best finisher I've ever seen. But Wayne, he can finish, he can create, he can run, he can pass, he can head, he's scary. I don't know if he'll ever be the six-yard poacher that Ian Wright was, that Alan Shearer is, because there's so much to his game.

"But the good thing is, he asks questions, he doesn't just train and go home. When he got sent off, the press were a bit tough on him. And people were saying that if you take that out of him, that aggression, he won't be the same player. But I told him that if he could keep his head he would perform better, because when you see the mist, by the time the mist has cleared something's gone wrong. Obviously he's got that edge to his game, but I think he's done marvellously well to curb it. You could be very physical when I started in football. Now you can't be as physical."

Although Rooney inspired Everton's recent wins against Villa and Portsmouth, it has frequently been asserted this season that he plays better for England. Is that because he has better players around him at international level, I ask Campbell, somewhat insensitively.

"No, it's because he has more time on the ball. He will play better for England throughout his career, because international football is not like the Premiership, all thunder and hell. For England he has time to look up, like in that first game against Turkey. He looked awesome that day.

"Sure, there were better players around him, too, but he still looked better than everyone else on the pitch.

"I think he's going to take the European Championship by storm this summer. But in the Premier League it will take time until he really knows how to use what he's got.

"And we're not a Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal. He's having to grind it out like the best of us."

Which begs the painful question: how long can Everton hold on to him?

"I think we all know that at some stage, if the club doesn't get the money to fulfil Wayne's ambitions, it will be hard to keep him. Obviously he wants to win things, and to win things with Everton, but to win things these days you have to spend, and we all recognise that the money's just not there at the moment.

"But Everton's still a special club. As a youngster I used to watch Arsenal, and I remember that in the tough times, when they weren't winning, the stadium was never full.

"Even when Everton are struggling, you get a full house. And on Monday, after a bad result, from the fans you get 'Come on, we've got to push on'. At Arsenal, all week you'd be getting doom and gloom."

Campbell played for Arsenal from 1988 to 1995. In 1990-91 he won a championship medal. But the current side is not only the best Arsenal team he has ever seen, it's the best club side, period.

"They are frightening. People talk about Real Madrid, but Arsenal on their day are unstoppable. From every angle they can hurt you. That championship side I played in lost only one game, and there are some guys from that team who hope they get beat a couple of times this season so we can keep that record. But it doesn't look like happening. There's no doubt in my mind that this team can do the Treble."

And now that he has analysed Rooney's striking abilities, what of Thierry Henry's?

A rueful smile. "What people forget is that he's not a striker. He's a winger, converted to a striker, and people might not realise how hard that is. He had a poor start with Arsenal, but Arsène Wenger's so clever. He gave him a bit of space. It was just the same with [Nicolas] Anelka."

Neither Henry nor Anelka nor Rooney, though, are on Campbell's list of the six footballers he would choose to watch on video if he were stranded on a desert island.

Who are the six players he would watch, if forced to do so repeatedly? It's the sort of question we all love pondering, and Campbell is no exception. He trots out his answers with a wide smile and no hesitation.

"My six players ... Pele, Maradona, Zidane, Ronaldo, Marco van Basten, and one of my old Arsenal favourites, Liam Brady. They'd be my six, for sure."

Returning to the subject of music, I have also invited him to name his six desert island discs.

"You're The One" by The Emotions; "Burn This Disco Out", Michael Jackson; "Heartbreak Hotel", Jackson Five; Teddy Pendergrass, "Joy"; "Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye; and "Juicy", Notorious BIG.

And if he had to choose between listening to the music or watching the football? Actually, the question doesn't dawn on me until I'm on my way home from Wilmslow. But I bet he'd choose the music.

Kevin Campbell life and times

1970 Born 4 February in Lambeth, London. Emerged as a striking prodigy at Arsenal. Represented England at Under-21 level.

1995 After loan periods at Orient and Leicester, moved in July to Nottingham Forest.

1997-98 Scored 23 goals in partnership with Pierre Van Hooijdonk. Forest promoted to the Premiership as champions.

1998 Sold in July to Trabzonspur, Turkey for £3m.

1999 He refused to play another game for the Turkish club because of a racist remark and joined Everton in July for £3m.

2000 Scored nine goals in eight games, including a hat-trick against West Ham in the final home game.

2001-02 His partnership with Francis Jeffers helped keep Everton in the Premiership. Named Everton's first black captain, but injury caused him to miss large parts of the season. Scored 38 goals in 100 games for Everton. Signed a deal to extend his stay with Everton till 2005.

2002-03 Finished as the club's highest goalscorer.

2003 Celebrated his 50th goal in Everton colours on 11 May with a header past Manchester United's Roy Carroll.