LONDON, March 20 (Reuters) - Sol Campbell refers to Arsene Wenger as ‘The Professor’ and the former England captain says he received a first-class education in football management during his time as a player under the Arsenal boss.
The former centre half featured for a host of managers in his nine years with first club Tottenham Hotspur but considers Wenger, who takes charge of his 1,000th match for the north London club against Chelsea on Saturday, as special.
“The Professor? He has been fantastic, clever all round,” Campbell told Reuters in a telephone interview from Los Angeles where he is helping his wife with her furniture business.
“He has his own philosophy and he’s never gone away from it. He’s always stuck to his guns, he’s got integrity,” said the 39-year-old.
“Different players have come and gone in his time with Arsenal but he’s always stuck to that pure footballing philosophy of his.”
Campbell, who had two spells at Arsenal from 2001-06 and again in 2010 after spending three years at Portsmouth and the briefest of brief periods at Notts County, said Wenger’s approach was exemplary.
“I liked the way the club were structured under Arsene and the way he wanted his players to play. Before I went to Arsenal I’d been in a situation where managers used to change things every other week,” explained Campbell.
“In terms of the way he structures the club and the way he gets his teams to play pure football, he’s the best manager I’ve ever come across.”
Campbell is one of a select band of nine players to have crossed the north London divide from Tottenham to Arsenal but few were as successful as the big, powerful former captain of Spurs.
He forged a reputation as one of the finest centre backs in world football during his time under Wenger and occupies 15th position on the list of all-time greats that features on the club website.
In season 2001-02, the first campaign following his controversial free-transfer departure from White Hart Lane, Campbell won the Premier League and FA Cup double.
Campbell was vilified for joining Arsenal. Spurs fans reacted with fury, labelling him ‘Judas’, and the majority will never forgive him for what they perceive was an act of betrayal.
“At that time of my life I needed the kind of framework that Arsene had at Arsenal,” said Campbell who has stirred up more controversy in recent weeks with claims of English FA racism in his new book ‘Sol Campbell - The Authorised Biography by Simon Astaire’.
“Arsene always wants football to be played on the ground and that’s the way I like football to be played too,” said the player who won 73 caps for England and captained his country three times.
“He believes the players should always make the football do the work. He also demands that they look after themselves properly on and off the field - it’s a lovely balance.”
Campbell’s Arsenal career reached a peak in season 2003-04 when the team now known as ‘The Invincibles’ romped to the Premier League title without losing a game.
That side featured a host of top talent, from Jens Lehmann in goal, through defenders Campbell and Ashley Cole, France midfielders Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires and the brilliant strike pair of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp.
Wenger’s influence on The Invincibles was understated but meaningful, according to Campbell.
“Arsene used a very light touch that season,” said the former England international who is now working for the Welsh FA while trying to obtain his coaching badges. “He provided the platform for us and it was like a well-oiled machine.
“He was very clever, he didn’t try to smother us and he knew when to back off. He knew we were good and he just allowed the team to go.” (Editing by Alan Baldwin)