The curious captaincy world of Sol Campbell

Former skipper captain Sol Campbell, right, parades the FA Cup around Wembley with Kanu in 2008
Former skipper captain Sol Campbell, right, parades the FA Cup around Wembley with Kanu in 2008

Sylvain Distin – now he was a class act.

The outstanding defender of that second Harry Redknapp tenure, for some fans the finest Pompey centre-half witnessed in the modern era.

My News colleague Jordan Cross recollects the evening he was conducting a post-match interview with the Frenchman outside Fratton Park when it started to rain heavily.

The player responded by inviting him to shelter in his Porsche Cayenne 4X4 to continue their discussion.

I can still picture Distin, with head bowed, being the last Blues player to trudge off the Emirates pitch following a 4-1 defeat under Paul Hart.

He never played for the Blues again – a £5m move to Everton occurred six days later.

Then there was Sol Campbell, skipper, England international and Premier League heavyweight.

A thoroughbred of a performer and magnificent foil to Distin in the heart of that Pompey defence which achieved the club’s finest season for more than half a century in 2007-08.

Yet he remained a complex character during his three-year Fratton Park residence, an enigmatic figure who held most at arm’s length.

A magnificent footballer, although off the pitch a troubled and withdrawn character who was ill at ease in the footballing surroundings his talents had decreed he should inhabit.

Campbell was never your archetypal Premier League footballer wallowing in the trappings such a status entails – even if he did establish himself as one of the finest English defenders of his generation.

Intriguing then he should commission the release of an authorised biography by Simon Astaire and then personally lead the publicity charge.

Parading under the England captaincy banner, Campbell and his loud hailer have unquestionably drawn plenty of attention to a book released 12 days ago.

After all, he has chosen to label the Football Association institutionally racist and stated if he had been white would have been skipper of his country for 10 years.

Strong claims from a player whose effectiveness in such a role were often questioned deep inside Fratton Park during his 111 appearances.

Here was a fascinating character in a period when the likes of Hermann Hreidarsson, David James, Kanu and coach Tony Adams were also residents in that dressing room.

They possessed genuine quirks and intriguing idiosyncrasies, although Campbell was the morose yang to their yin.

Those who worked closely with the former Arsenal defender at the Blues portray him as a brooding loner rather than natural leader of men.

Certainly not in the same captaincy class as the highly-regarded Dejan Stefanovic, while Paul Merson and David James are also said to have shone during their periods in the role.

Former colleagues describe Campbell as an acquaintance of James and Linvoy Primus, yet overall struggled with friendships within football, regularly taking lunch on his own in the Wellington Sports Ground canteen following training.

Meanwhile, his demands of up to three massages a day infuriated backroom staff, who felt they were forced to neglect other players’ needs as a result.

Most crucial of all. Campbell also possessed a tremendous propensity to complain. Frequently.

For those who encountered him, the 39-year-old’s habit of moaning at Pompey remains as much a trademark as those thumping headed clearances of his.

Generally, it centred on the quality of footballing facilities which, as he would so prolifically point out, didn’t compare to Arsenal.

He was actually involved in the initial drawing up of plans for the Lee-On-Solent training ground, assisting then chief executive Peter Storrie in the ambitious design.

Unsurprisingly, the ill-fated scheme was going to have startling similarities to Arsenal’s facilities.

Of course, nothing wrong with striving for a raising of standards in an attempt to increase performances at your football club. Similarly professional pride is to be applauded.

With Campbell, though, the push was incessant and would regularly have a negative effect on those around him.

It came to the point where the club felt the need to suppress their captain speaking to the press in the interests of damage limitation.

The former England man’s preference for massages ensured he would be the last out of the dressing room following a match, so the wait to interview him could be agonising.

But as Campbell headed home to Winchester, he would always give up his time to The News after being accosted in the club car park.

Unfailingly polite and professional, although never warm, he would talk frankly and openly about the match as well as whatever talking point was currently engulfing Pompey.

His comments usually centred on finances, mainly calling for Sacha Gaydamak to dip into his bank account and lavish more money on the club.

The Blues’ squad needed strengthening, a new ground was overdue, a training venue was essential – he had a point. And how those in the hierarchy hated him voicing them to the press.

Such was their fear of upsetting the likes of Gaydamak and Co, the club would eventually decline to even put up Campbell for duties, effectively gagging their own captain.

His community-event involvement was also remarkably poor for a club captain at Pompey.

On one occasion, as ambassador of the Oki Street Sixes Youth Football League, Campbell was scheduled to coach youngsters at the club’s Eastleigh training base following training.

He would turn up an hour-and-a-half late – having received firstly a massage and then taken in lunch.

Not that Campbell was a dislikable character. By all accounts, there was no arrogance and neither was he a rampaging troublemaker.

Although, fans’ liaison officer Johnny Moore tells the tale how, on a flight to Braga, he once sat in a seat next to Hreidarsson positioned by an exit, with the extra leg room helpful in coping with his arthritis.

Campbell came over intent on claiming the seat for himself and sneered: ‘I didn’t know you were playing tomorrow?’

A shocked Moore obliged. To this day he regrets that on the return journey he didn’t approach Campbell and announce perhaps he should have turned out in that 3-0 defeat.

That was the captain of Pompey and self-proclaimed England skipper for 10 years.

But amid the weaknesses, something should never be overlooked. When Sol went up to lift the FA Cup we were there.