Arsene Wenger has revealed that his Arsenal players booed Sol Campbell in training in order to try and prepare him for the north London derby in 2001.
Arsene Wenger said “They did that, and they also made jokes about it. But the situation was really stressful for Sol and he told me afterwards how severe it became. He couldn’t go to certain places for dinner or walk freely in London because of the anger of the Tottenham fans. In hindsight, I’m not sure if I would sign him again bearing in mind the difficulties he faced.”
Arsenal’s signing of Campbell from their closest rivals came as a huge shock at the time, with both fans and the media caught off guard by the transfer. Reporters turned up, having been led to believe that the club were announcing the signing of Ipswich goalkeeper Richard Wright, only for Campbell to be unveiled.
Arsene Wenger said “Until I presented Sol Campbell to the press, nobody could have ever imagined him in an Arsenal shirt,” Wenger said when asked how they managed to keep the transfer a secret. This transfer remained secret amongst the four of us: him, his agent, David and me. That cannot happen anymore in modern football because there are so many people involved in a transfer. We walked around the house in the countryside at night. I knew that it would cause heated debates in London, but I was truly convinced by the player. I thought he was capable of facing the adversity. For me, it was easy because everybody was conscious that I had signed a great player. But for him, it was more complicated.”
Campbell became a pantomime villain when he left Spurs to move to their bitter rivals after five years with the Lillywhites. Wenger knew the England centre-back would receive a torrent of abuse when Arsenal faced Tottenham in the derby on November 17, so his team-mates tried to replicate the match situation on the training pitch. Ultimately Campbell came through the match well as the Gunners secured a 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane, but Wenger admitted the situation was difficult for his new signing.
Campbell went on to play for Arsenal for five years, from 2001 to 2006, winning two Premier League titles and two FA Cups with the Gunners. He left for Portsmouth and played briefly for Notts County before returning to Arsenal for a short stint in 2010.
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