This week, former England and Arsenal defender, Sol Campbell, stated that he believed he would have been England captain for up to ten years had he been born white.
Between 1996 and 2007 Campbell was a regular in the England squad, forming a formidable partnership with Rio Ferdinand in the back line. But his claims that he was overlooked for captaincy throughout his 76 caps based upon the colour of his skin are, in my eyes, unfounded and untrue. Despite his claims, Campbell, who also played for Tottenham and Portsmouth in his career, was given the captain’s armband on three occasions for England. It seems this sudden and unprompted outburst is nothing more than a publicity stunt to promote his upcoming biography.
The simple truth is that, while a good player, Sol Campbell was never truly the best man to wear the England shirt, or indeed the captain’s armband at the time. When looking at the captains under whom Campbell played, it is easier to understand why he may not have been first choice. Tony Adams was a born leader and a multi-league and trophy winning captain for Arsenal; Alan Shearer was one of England’s greatest ever strikers and captains; David Seaman and Martin Keown both have numerous awards, titles and vast experience. Not to mention David Beckham: Ballon d’Or nominated, treble-winning star footballer, and the golden boy of football at the turn of the millennium. Along with Steven Gerrard, they both boasted domestic and European titles as captains of their respective clubs, and are two of the most experienced men in the England team.
Throughout his time, Sol Campbell was one of the most reliable men in English football, with a number of honours to his name. He was brilliant at the 2002 world cup making the Team of the Tournament, being the only English player to do so, but he was kept from the top job by other circumstances beyond his race. In the early 2000’s, a period where Campbell could have been a viable England captain, the men who wore the armband were two of the most recognisable football players in the world. Beckham and Gerrard led England well, providing no reason to change the set up. During this time the team reached the quarter finals in international tournaments: two in the World Cup and one European Championship, leading England to a consistent top ten position within the FIFA world rankings between 2001 and 2006.
Beckham was the FA’s golden boy, the face of the English game. Having him as England captain added a certain appeal to the image of the national side, something that then manager, Sven Goran Erikson, was keen to exploit. The same is true of vice-captain Michael Owen, also a popular choice among fans. Despite his undeniable talent as a striker, Owen was still highly criticised by Campbell, who felt he was more deserving of the position.
The nature of the role means that really only one man can be captain and, in my view, a prolonged period with one leader is what is best for an international squad.
I am a big Beckham fan and always have been. Perhaps I’m biased but I believe he was the right man for the time. Regardless of Campbell’s skin colour, he simply didn’t have the natural prowess needed to captain a formidable England team.
Maybe this is a PR stunt, or maybe it is merely part of the wider race issue that has been so prevalent in football. Personally I can’t see why Sol Campbell has suddenly come out with this revelation, especially given his long and fruitful career. It seems unnecessary to sully his sterling England reputation for a few more news stories rather than retiring gracefully.