Joel Campbell 20 Striker Arsenal (loaned to Lorient 2011/12, then Real Betis for 2012/13)
The whole point of the 100 is to give an opinion on a player’s last 12 months, good or bad, look at what we know, intelligently speculate on what we don’t, and then give a grade on what we think is a fair assessment of the evidence we’re presenting. In certain cases, even this considered approach can seem a bit unfair.
Take for instance Joel Campbell. Signed with a fanfare by Arsenal in 2011 from under the noses of several of European football’s biggest names, he is yet to make an appearance for his new club due to work-permit conditions outside of his control. While loan spells are good for a player’s development in terms of minutes on the pitch, working away from the club that have longer-term plans in mind, particularly one with as fixed a style as Arsenal, is not ideal to judge a footballer’s true ability.
Taking everything at face value, Campbell represents huge potential and the feeding frenzy around his signature was no surprise to those who tag themselves with that most loathsome of phrases - ‘in the know’. He had absolutely sparkled at youth level, particularly internationally and particularly at 2011 CONCACAF U20 Championship where he finished as joint top scorer and officially on the radar of scouting systems far and wide.
Arsenal twitched first and twitched decisively, he duly signed a five-year contract with the London club and backs were patted within the Emirates as they’d ‘found another’. As is the way with modern football, YouTube then went into overdrive making sure Arsenal fan’s appetites were wetted and their gooses bumped with edited highlights reels set to awful dance music. Hashtag ‘excited’.
In that U20 tournament he scored some great goals, showcasing a range of finishing from calmness from the penalty spot to the ability to carry the ball over distance and finish well when one-on-one. Most at home coming from wide positions (particularly from the left wing) he was given some freedom to roam and Costa Rica profited, finishing as runners-up to Mexico thanks in no small part to Campbell’s 8 goals.
He also then impressed at the 2011 Copa America having made his way into the senior squad, catching the ever reliable eyes of Tim Vickery who described him as ‘the pick of the bunch’, and reporting on Costa Rica’s 2-0 win over Bolivia Jonathan Wilson who noted that when switched to the left in the game he went from disappointing to ‘devastating’.
In terms of senior domestic football prior to joining Arsenal, Campbell had actually played very little. His parent club Deportivo Saprissa gave him just three starts over his two years at the club, a loan spell at Puntarenas gave him another five. While admittedly young at the time, Campbell left for Arsenal without a goal in senior club football to his name. However, if you think that’s downplaying the talent then it must be pointed out that as stated he’d already graduated to the full international side, and that he’d scored twice - against Cuba and Bolivia – and a few months later he would also score in a 2-2 draw against Spain. Campbell was absolutely Costa Rican football’s next big thing, despite hardly featuring in the domestic game.
Arsenal immediately brokered a loan deal for Campbell and he went for the majority of the 2011/12 season to FC Lorient. Used largely as a substitute (11 starting appearances, another 14 coming from the bench) he did find himself on the score-sheet three times but ultimately never found that level of consistency that would wow French crowds he seemed to reach at international level.
He did excite at times, but he also showed his naivety and petulance, collecting more yellow cards than goals and often trying a little too hard to take a man on when the simple and more effective ball was on. These are common traits in young players, particularly those who find their opportunities limited, and no one set the panic bell ringing yet.
This season he finds himself on loan in Spain with Real Betis and to date things aren’t going wonderfully well there either. It has been reported locally that he has struggled to settle in the area and that he finds himself a victim of the age-old old club v country argument. Campbell has repeatedly been called into the international squad and missed working with the Betis first eleven on the training ground due to travel, something that has infuriated management at the club.
Added to this is his deployment as a more traditional task-orientated winger, a position that feels an awkward fit for a player who has thrived with freedom. In his second appearance for Betis he was sent off for two yellows and the crowd remain unimpressed. He’s getting time on the pitch here and there but both player and club have yet to really fall in love with each other and in truth, it could be argued neither party has really tried.
So all this makes Campbell difficult to judge as to our collective hive mind, one of the things that would benefit his game immeasurably would be some time with his parent club. He is (and we use this in terms of style and not talent as it stands) Thierry Henry like in many ways - the quick feet, the sharp finishing, the cutting in, that innate ability to run with the ball as fast as without – but there are one or two problems in his game that time spent with Arsenal would go a long way too cure.
For example he is very left-footed and very obvious about it. He can use (and has scored with) his right but it tends to be the last or the unthinking option. Top class defenders will work that out very quickly and speed will only get you so far.
He also needs to find his position and a role in the team (for us he should be on the left of a front three) and be given an extended run there to allow him to prove he’s capable and find consistency. The talent is still there, he now needs the faith from a manager to show it and a system that works with his strengths.
On loan you are in effect on borrowed time, work permit issues abound and we understand that – he may never be given the chance of an Arsenal career through no fault of his own – and this is nowhere near make or break time for Campbell, yet. He has shown in flashes what he can do at senior level for club and country, not least of which was the goal that defeated Wales in the Gary Speed Memorial game in February, he now needs to take his chances at Betis and beyond as and when they present themselves.
“I think there’s a good player in there but one who may need to be handled with kid gloves and loved to get the best from, needs to be at a club with the time to give him a bit of special treatment and longer term, that may not be Arsenal.”– Dave Hartrick (IBWM)
D Maybe harsh considering circumstances beyond his control but he must become as comfortable in a club shirt as an international one