Sol Campbell: There will be non-white PM before non-white England boss
Former Tottenham, Arsenal and England defender Sol Campbell has spent the past few months playing a different kind of game. After a career spanning two decades where he won 73 caps and every major honour in England, the 40-year-old has moved into the world of politics and tried to secure the Conservative Party nomination for London Mayor but did not make the shortlist.
ESPN FC caught up with the former defender to discuss football, politics and what the future holds.
Q. The Premier League starts on Aug. 8. Who do you think will be champions?
A. I think it's going to be Arsenal's year. For the second part of last season their form was fantastic and I think they will take this into the new season. Arsenal are usually slow starters and do not fire into life until December. I believe they now realise that they can't afford to do this anymore and have to get out of the blocks quickly. Arsenal have a strong, balanced side, there's a great team spirit, which is very important and Arsene has at last, got the formula right. He's also made one of the most important signings of any of the top four clubs this summer.
Q. Who is that then?
A. Petr Cech [signed from Chelsea for £11 million]. Every top side needs a world-class goalkeeper. He is a fantastic addition to the team and is exactly what Arsenal needed. He has a big game mentality, a proven track record as a winner and will add an extra, solid layer to the defence. He could be the final piece in the jigsaw and will make Arsenal a much tougher side to beat.
Q. What about Arsenal's defensive problems?
A. I think these have been a bit exaggerated and the back four is not as bad as fans and pundits have made out. Only Chelsea and Southampton conceded fewer goals last season. Laurent Koscielny has become one of Arsenal's most important players and the statistics show that when he's in the side they concede fewer goals. [Per] Mertesacker is solid and very dependable. I also think [Calum] Chambers needs to play at centre-half on a consistent basis because that is his best position. If I was him, I would be knocking on the manager's door to tell him this. Add Cech to the equation and you have a very strong defence.
Q. Even during campaigning for the London Mayor nomination, you were asked about your controversial switch in 2001 from Spurs to Arsenal. Any regrets about crossing the great north London divide?
A. None. It was a move that I needed to make. Going to Arsenal was a big progression for me. Everything about Arsenal was better than Spurs at the time from the players, management to the mentality of the club and the facilities. I wanted to improve myself as both a person and a footballer. It was a highly controversial move and Spurs fans have not forgotten it, but it was the best thing that I could have done for myself.
Q. Clearly you have an interest in politics and football has been in the news a lot recently with the issues surrounding FIFA. What do you think about the ongoing crisis at world football's governing body?
A. When you have senior officials being arrested and being placed under investigation by the FBI then things are not good. It's positive that reform is going to take place and that [current FIFA president] Blatter is stepping down. A lot of people want him to go immediately but a phased withdrawal is better for the game. There's been enough upheaval as it is in FIFA. Blatter has faced a lot of criticism, and rightly so but he is highly regarded by Africans, Asians and many other smaller national associations and we shouldn't forget this. A lot of good work has been done during his presidency but, sadly, it will be overshadowed by all the bad things that have gone on.
Q. Who should be the next FIFA president?
A. Whoever gets the job needs to be well connected in world football. [Current UEFA president] Michel Platini would be a good candidate and just announced his intention to stand. Prince Ali, who lost to Blatter in the election a month ago, would be a good president because he is a proven football administrator who is also well connected throughout the game.
Q. Have you ever thought of standing for FIFA president yourself one day or getting involved in football politics?
A. No, because when I have tried to get involved the football authorities in England have not been interested in what I have to say. After I retired from playing in May 2012, I met with the FA because I believed that, given my experience, I could have made a contribution to the game. It never led to anything and nobody took up my offer of playing a more active role. I also want to focus on areas where I can make a meaningful contribution to society and that's why I joined the Conservative Party and wanted to become London Mayor.
Q. Do you plan to continue in politics?
A. I'm disappointed that I didn't make the shortlist for London Mayor and want to continue in politics but am not sure in what capacity. Becoming an MP is not my main concern to be honest. I come from a working class background in East London and was the youngest of 12 children and know what it's like to emerge from difficult beginnings. I have come across some great organisations and individuals during my campaign and want to continue working with them.
Q. You controversially claimed in your biography published last year that being black prevented you from captaining England more than three times. Do you think race could hold you back in politics?
A. I think you will see a non-white Prime Minister in Downing Street before you see a non-white England football manager. For me, when it comes to race, the world of politics is changing faster than the world of football. If you look at the organisations that run football in this country, they do not reflect the contribution of black players.
Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport