Sol Campbell exclusive: Arsenal victory in north London derby could leave Spurs too far behind
16:50 05 February 2015
There are few personalities in sport who polarise opinion as much as Sol Campbell. And if you think his views on racism, lower league training pitches (notably Notts County’s) and even smoking are firmly delivered, perhaps they’re only reflective of what the former Tottenham and Arsenal man brought on himself as a player.
“I was never someone who invited the attention – not in my mind – but you make decisions in life and that’s sometimes just the effect of them,” says Campbell.
“I’ve not many regrets in the game – certainly I proved joining Arsenal was the right decision for me given the silverware I won there, and that’s always been reason enough.
“But at times the abuse in the lead-up to the north London derby was fierce. I could block it out on the day, but it was the hassle leading up to the game that got me.
“There were so many people second-guessing you, constantly watching your back. I can’t say I enjoyed that much.
But Campbell wasn’t alone in the chagrin he provoked from Spurs supporters. The dominant Arsenal team that he was such an integral part of between 2001 and 2006 boasted a variety of characters opposing fans despised.
“It was because we were so successful,” says Campbell. “If we’d been finishing fourth we wouldn’t have been so disliked; even if we hadn’t become The Invincibles. It’s all these things that build.
“I don’t see that level of hatred towards either the Arsenal or Tottenham teams at the moment. I guess Emmanuel Adebayor is the classic pantomime villain, but I don’t see too many controversial characters.
“It’s the ultimate derby and it’ll be a very special occasion, as usual, but more so given that we’re getting to the business end of the season now and the difference between winning and losing seems even more real.
“There are only two points separating them so it’s a chance for both clubs to really steal a march on each other. If Arsenal get five clear can Spurs come back? Looking at the run-in, I’m not sure.”
Campbell, who also played for Portsmouth, Notts County and Newcastle United in his 19-year professional career, believes the momentum is with Arsenal.
“I think Arsène Wenger has confounded the critics again,” he adds.
“They have players back – [Theo] Walcott and [Mesut] Ozil are like two new signings – and from the front to the back everyone’s playing with the sort of swagger we expect of the Gunners.
“But make no mistake, Tottenham have done incredibly well and I have a lot of admiration for Mauricio Pochettino.
“There were question marks over the way the Gareth Bale cash was spent, but they pale into the background when you have such a rich seam of youngsters coming through, and in recent years Spurs have rediscovered how to do that – they’re in good shape.
“My only hope is that, for both teams, next season we’re not just talking about finishing fourth. They should both be aiming higher than that.
“Going to White Hart Lane is tough, but Arsenal have the momentum and, with players coming back I can see a narrow away win.”
n Sol Campbell is backing the Great British Brekkie campaign to help support bereaved children. For more information visit www.greatbritishbrekkie.org.uk