Sol Campbell: becoming a centre-back
Former Tottenham, Arsenal and England defender, Sol Campbell, talks about what helped him develop into the player he was and looks at the skills needed to be a modern-day centre-back.
A League Cup, four FA Cups, two Premier League titles and one invincible season. Campbell has had a hugely successful career.
Here, the former Three Lions star reflects on what helped him get to the top and offers advice to aspiring players.
Playing in tight area
Being comfortable on the ball under pressure from an opponent is an important skill for every player. For Campbell, who didn’t receive much training until he was a teenager, playing wherever and whenever he could, helped him develop this ability.
“There was a particular school I used to go to all the time. Really, that’s where my coaching experiences started because there were maybe 10, 12, 15 boys; some were older, some were younger, and some were better skill-wise as well.
“But it’s mainly on the floor. It’s getting out of a tight area to score, getting out of tight areas to find a teammate. At the same time, your fitness levels are going to go through the roof because you’re there every day. And it’s actually high-quality football, so you learn.
“I was playing there, on the streets as well, or maybe over the park or in a block of flats.
“I think for me, playing in tight areas, you improve your skill. In a block of flats, you’ve got two lifts – a small goal to shoot at – and at the same time, you’ve got all sorts of obstacles. You’ve got people walking past, and you’ve got to stop and start. You’ve got your mates on the side waiting for the next game to start, someone scores a goal, and then you’re off, a little bit like a Wembley scenario – 1v1s. So, you learn a lot like that. It’s good. A lot of tight areas.”
Playing other sports in your training sessions can be a helpful way of developing your players. For example, rugby can introduce the idea of sidestepping opponents and using disguise to hide intentions on the ball. For Campbell, playing tennis developed his footwork, which, along with other attributes, was important for him as a centre-back.
“I think for me, there was pace and strength, but also the ability to change pace and to slow down. I had that maybe because I played a lot of tennis, so my footwork was, for a big guy, very good. So, that was key for me. As I got bigger, I kind of relied on that so I wouldn’t get outfoxed by smaller, quicker forwards.
“And you know, just playing it simple, good passes, being conscientious and working out the space as well. I was very good at moving my feet and body into a position that I could zip the ball out wide or into midfield and create space and overloads from a centre-half position. So, I was good at working things out.”
Developing good perception skills is key to being a skilful player. Having the ability to scan the pitch and read the game helped Campbell pick up good positions, which was helpful for when he entered the latter part of his playing career.
“My positional sense as a young lad really came into its own now because you’re not as quick as at 25, but you’re still half decent. You can still keep up with people, but you’re not 25, and you’ve really got to get the positional sense. That means that when you need to really turn the turbo boost on, you’re there. And also, you save your legs. If you get in the right positions, you don’t run as much.
“I’d rather use my brain to get into positions and then, if I need to, use my pace to execute an attack or whatever. Just use your voice, use your experience to get in positions, and then when you really need it, turn on the turbos and get out of trouble. But really, for me, that experience kicked in massively as I got older.”