COMMENT: The 21-year-old has once again alerted Arsene Wenger to his abilities after a fine individual display against Uruguay that left the Paris Saint-Germain man in the shade
By Chris Myson
After all the pre-match talk of Luis Suarez’s fitness and Edinson Cavani’s ability to take centre stage, it proved to be Joel Campbell who thrust himself into the limelight to blow World Cup Group D wide open.
The Costa Rica forward provided a goal and an assist as the largely written-off Central Americans came from behind to leave Uruguay – touted as tournament dark horses by some – very much second best.
Few would have expected the starlet, who is owned by Arsenal and spent last season on loan at Olympiakos (his third temporary home in as many seasons), to be the talking point. But his virtuoso display will not only have alerted Italy and England, who he will face in his next two matches, to his abilities but also Arsene Wenger, who may be keen to give him the opportunity to provide back up to Olivier Giroud next season.
Lest we forget that Campbell was the man that almost masterminded a humiliating Champions League exit for Manchester United back in February. The 21-year-old tormented David Moyes’ side in Athens, capping his display that night with an arched left-footed shot from distance that swerved around Rio Ferdinand and into the bottom corner.
And against Uruguay he proved equally decisive. After rocketing a long-range sighter just wide in the first half, in the second period he was insatiable, and unstoppable.
With his side trailing 1-0, he controlled a lofted ball into the box on his chest and despatched his finish, unnerringly, past Fernando Muslera and into the net. From there, he displayed drive, close control, and powerful running, and after Oscar Duarte put his side ahead, he slid in Marcos Urrena with a neat through ball to clinch the result.
Campbell can expect his movements to be heavily scrutinised from now on, but he has quietly been growing in stature and influence as a player ever since he was plucked from relative obscurity by Arsenal in 2011.
The Premier League side paid just over €1 million to sign the youngster, who had only just turned 19 and never played outside of his homeland. Wenger admitted he was taking a gamble but his gut instinct was that this was a deal which would pay off in the long-term.
The Frenchman said at the time: “Joel is a young prospect. He has talent and he can play on the right, on the left or more centrally. We have taken a gamble on him but, from what we have seen so far, it is one that is worth taking.”
Until his recent breakout displays, though, Campbell had been on an unconventional career journey. Immediately after signing for Arsenal without a British work permit, the wide attacker’s first move was to France, where he joined top-flight outfit Lorient for a battle against Ligue 1 relegation.
Campbell did not make an immediate impression and endured a mixed campaign. His whole spell yielded just four goals in 27 appearances but he did grow in stature as the season progressed, producing some effective performances. His pace and direct style meant he was often a particularly useful weapon when he came off the bench.
|“Joel is a young prospect. He has talent and he can play right, left or centrally. We have taken a gamble on him but, it is one worth taking”
– Arsene Wenger
The following year saw Campbell take another step up the ladder. He was sent out on loan again, this time to Real Betis in Spain, providing him with a chance to sample La Liga.
His season in Seville followed a familiar trend but by the second half of the campaign, he had become a crucial component of the side that impressively finished seventh under Pepe Mel.
Campbell was eligible for a work permit to play in England in 2013-14 but Wenger decided another loan stint was required, though the striker is adamant he has all the attributes to succeed at the Emirates.
“As soon as Arsenal came in I wanted to join them and I believe I am ready to play for Arsenal next season,” he said after his impressive display against United in the Champions League.
“I know I have the capacity to play there. I am only waiting for the opportunity. With hard work I know I can get there.”
Campbell’s flashes of talent are now being honed into more consistent displays and now the world at large have been made well aware of what he is capable of. His exploits may well persuade Wenger that the time has come to judge first-hand whether his gamble really will pay off, by giving Campbell the chance to star in Arsenal’s first-team squad.
Follow Chris Myson on