Happy birthday, Sol!

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The inside story of Sol's move to Arsenal

It was arguably the most controversial transfer in Premier League history, but what exactly happened when Sol Campbell swapped Tottenham for Arsenal?

We spoke to the man at the centre of the storm, as well as Arsene Wenger, about a deal that was shrouded in secrecy... and involved clandestine meetings in the dead of night.

SOL CAMPBELL: It was about two or three months before [when Inter Milan were interested]. A few other clubs were too - Barcelona came in and I think Bayern came in six or seven months before

ARSENE WENGER: We walked together at one o’clock in the morning to talk about [signing]… because he was paranoid it would be discovered. This is a transfer we made with David Dein, at his house, and sometimes we had meetings at 11pm so we could make sure no one could see us. It is an unbelievable story.

SOL CAMPBELL: We would meet at night time and it helped because he doesn’t live in a built-up place. It’s not like an inner-city London place where David Dein lived, so it was quite easy to meet.

ARSENE WENGER: I was sceptical until the end because I realised when you play in London, at Arsenal, how much you will have to face if you change club. Sol suffered from that later because he faced real tough people who were after him and over the period it had a weight on him and it was a problem for him to deal with that. He paid a heavy price for that move but I think as well he wanted to win trophies and that is why he made that decision.

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Toure - Why partnership with Campbell worked

As a central-defensive partnership, Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure came from very different ends of the spectrum.

The former was an experienced England international who already had a Premier League and FA Cup winners’ medal by the time Toure joined the club from Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas.

But together they were the bedrock of the Invincible side that went through the 2003/04 season unbeaten.

“It was special [to be part of that squad],” Toure told Arsenal Player. “I was one of the younger players, along with Ashley Cole. To be able to be around those experienced guys… they help you, they support you and for me that was amazing. 

“I think the thing which helped me was my willingness to listen. I was able to take any feedback they gave me and was always 100 per cent there physically. I tried to have a fantastic life, to focus on my game and focus on the football and the club. 

“A guy like Martin Keown didn’t play a lot, I took his position, but he always supported me and gave me advice all the time. 

“Sol Campbell was a fantastic guy who was really strong in the air. The pairing was really good. Sol was great in the air and I was really fast along the ground.”


Greatest 50 Players - 15. Sol Campbell

A total of nine players have dared to cross the north London divide from Tottenham to Arsenal, but none of them enhanced their reputations quite as much as Sol Campbell.

The captain, and jewel in the crown, of the White Hart Lane club, Campbell rose through the ranks and achieved international acclaim early in his career. In fact at the age of 23, Sol became the second-youngest player to lead England, behind Bobby Moore (although Michael Owen has since eclipsed that). However, a short trip down the Seven Sisters Road and, surrounded by great players as he was at Arsenal, the centre back grew into one of the game’s finest centre-backs.

His first season ended with exactly what he had left Spurs for - trophies, and two of them, the FA Cup and Premier League to be exact. During that campaign Campbell thrived alongside the outward-bound Tony Adams; rarely have an Arsenal defensive duo displayed such strength of character.

Greatest 50 Players - 15 Sol Campbell

Sol had proved himself almost impregnable and, in November 2001, when he returned to White Hart Lane with his new club, he showed that even the most daunting of occasions could be handled with mettle. The media hype and subsequent torrent of abuse aimed in his direction failed to upset Campbell; he performed with typical resoluteness.

On the field, the east Londoner’s strength was his athleticism. His bludgeoning power and fearsome frame worked in tandem with fast-moving feet. And there was, strangely for a man of his build, serenity in the way he carried himself, too. He was never willing to throw in the towel and often appeared visibly hurt in defeat - characteristics that endeared him to his new fans.

In the summer after the 2002 ‘double’, Campbell headed east to the World Cup in Japan and Korea. While heartache once again enveloped the nation, the Arsenal man performed sufficiently well before England’s exit at the quarter-final stage to be named in the Team of the Tournament. An era of Campbell dominance was upon us.

The following season, without a regular partner, he shouldered the majority of responsibility in defence. It led to the manager calling him a ‘super rock’. But Campbell missed the FA Cup final that year through suspension. His response was to be the cornerstone of the ‘Invincibles’ side of 2003/04, a campaign in which the Gunners conceded just 26 goals, the fewest in league.

The title was won that year in front of the same fans that had berated him so ferociously down the years. One Kolo Toure partnered Campbell in most of his 49 appearances that year - it was the ideal learning platform for the young Ivorian.

Arguably, though, the now aging Campbell saved his finest moment for his final game. The defender had had a mixed campaign, blighted by personal problems, but called upon his formidable inner strength to ready himself for the 2006 Champions League final in Paris. After 37 minutes he rose majestically, meeting a Thierry Henry free-kick, to nod the Gunners in front. History, of course, tells us that it wasn’t enough but it is a moment that is etched in the mind of Arsenal fans throughout the globe.

Sol left Arsenal that summer in search of a fresh challenge. He found it at Portsmouth, leading the south-coast outfit to their first major piece of silverware in half a century.

This list of 50 Gunners Greatest Players was determined by tens of thousands of Arsenal fans from across the world. The vote took place on the club’s official website in 2008. To help prevent multiple voting by a single person, only registered members of Arsenal.com could take part.