Sol Campbell Finally Gets His Chance to Manage After Years in the Shadows
Back in July 2017, I sat down with Sol Campbell at an Italian restaurant off the King’s Road. I had interviewed him at the same venue six years earlier and, having maintained a line of contact with the former Arsenal and England defender in the interim, our latest meeting was designed to be nothing more than an informal chat on a warm summer’s afternoon.
It came as a surprise, then, when Campbell used the opportunity to open up on his desire to become a manager. Normally reserved and a little withdrawn, he spoke like a man at his wits’ end. He had standing, qualifications and coaching experience but simply could not nail down a job, and such was his desperation to do so he claimed he would be willing to work for free. “I’m up for that,” Campbell said. “I’m itching to start, I just need a chance, even just an interview in which I can say: ‘Take me for free and I’ll show you what I can do.’”
Fast-forward 16 months and Campbell has finally made his breakthrough having being appointed manager of Macclesfield Town on Tuesday. The deal is for 18 months and it is safe to presume he is getting paid for the job of lifting the club away from the foot of League Two. Quite right, too, because Campbell should never have actually had to work for free and, in light of managerial appointments elsewhere, it can be argued he should been given such an opportunity much sooner.
Because while Ryan Giggs, Joey Barton, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard have walked into jobs of great standing, real potential or both during the past 11 months, Campbell has had to deal with the frustration of being turned down by the likes of Oxford United, Grimsby and Oldham despite having at least as strong credentials as his aforementioned contemporaries.
That is certainly the case in relation to Barton, who was appointed manager of League One Fleetwood Town in April despite serving a 13-month ban from football for betting offences. The former midfielder started work the day after the ban ended and has led Fleetwood to a respectable 13th place, but that does not take away from the sense that when it comes to managerial opportunities in this country it all too often comes down to who you know and what you look like.
Cue a rolling of eyes and shouts of ‘race card’ in some quarters but it requires only a glance at the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) managers working across this country’s 92 professional clubs to see there is a problem. Before Tuesday the number stood at seven – Chris Hughton at Brighton, Nuno Espírito Santo at Wolves, Darren Moore at West Brom, Jos Luhukay at Sheffield Wednesday, Chris Powell at Southend United, Dino Maamria at Stevenage Town and Keith Curle at Northampton Town – and while Campbell’s appointment is encouraging in that regard, the fact it took this long is damning.
After all, this is a man who, as well as being one of the finest players of his generation, under one of the most innovative and successful managers of the modern era in Arsène Wenger, has a Uefa pro licence and international coaching experience, having been part of Trinidad & Tobago’s backroom staff during their attempt to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Yet he still could not get hired during an era when a lack of experience and even a ban from the Football Association were clearly no barriers to doing so. As the Independent’s chief sports writer, Jonathan Liew, wrote in a recent column on the lack of BAME representation in English football, “you don’t need to play the race card if you’re already winning the game”.
There are no guarantees Campbell will be a success at Macclesfield and, I’m not going to lie, I have concerns about his man-management skills. My dealings with him, on the King’s Road and elsewhere, were always fine but he can be as frosty as he seems from a distance, and you have to wonder whether that type of demeanour will work with a group of players who probably need an arm round the shoulder as much as a kick up the backside right now.
Equally, the claim that Campbell is too unorthodox to succeed as a manager is absurd, pointing to the character tests that only people from certain backgrounds have to pass to secure a job in football. Being unorthodox has not, for instance, stopped Ian Holloway from getting work in this country, or for that matter, Marcelo Bielsa.
Campbell is no Bielsa, of course, or for that matter Holloway, but that is because, at 44, he is only now starting his managerial career having recently enhanced his CV by working with England Under-21s as part of the Football Association’s ‘In Pursuit of Progress’ initiative. The hope must be that he has arrived at Macclesfield with his eyes fully open to the challenge of taking over a club seven points from safety and in severe need of direction having been without a manager since early October.
Campbell at least has history on his side. Two other BAME managers, Paul Ince and Keith Alexander, achieved success as well as popularity at Moss Rose, and while Campbell will rightly want to be judged on his own terms there is no getting away from the significance of his appointment.
This is a man who once claimed “archaic attitudes” in this country could ultimately force him to seek a manager’s post abroad. He now has a chance to shine on these shores. About time, too.
The Guardian Sport