Joel Campbell’s World Cup joy is a reminder of his bygone Arsenal days

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Costa Rica's Joel Campbell celebrates scoring against New Zealand at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Doha, June 2022.

One of the joys of watching the World Cup from an English perspective is shrieking with delight at seeing half-forgotten Premier League names strut their stuff on football’s biggest stage.

There was certain karma about Diego Forlan, who became a punchline at Manchester United, taming the Jabulani and winning the Golden Boot in 2010 as England showcased their pouting incompetence.

And I couldn’t have been the only person to leap off the sofa when the underwhelming Fulham attacker Bryan Ruiz scored the winner against Italy that sent Costa Rica through and knocked England out in 2014.

Consessiuers of this very nerdy genre will be drooling at some of the names destined to feature at Qatar 2022.

Iran, England’s first opponents, are hoping that Alireza Jahanbakhsh will gain a modicum of personal revenge for his failure at Brighton while Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa’s presence in the Cameroon midfield will cause those of a Fulham persuasion to raise their eyebrows.

Sebastian Coates. Wahbi Khazri. Enner Valencia. All these players and more will head to the Middle East determined to prove that their misadventures in England haven’t defined their careers.

Which, in a roundabout way, brings us round to Joel Campbell.

Towards the end of Campbell’s Arsenal spell, there was a huge battle of wills between Arsene Wenger’s desire to prevent the forward from a single Carabao cameo and his desire not to sell him at any cost.

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Tomas Danilevicius plays for Arsenal v Charlton. January 2001.

READ: Seven of Arsene Wenger’s most forgettable signings at Arsenal

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In seven years for the club, Campbell made a whole 23 appearances. He was under contract for longer than Robert Pires and William Gallas yet made fewer appearances than Scott Marshall and John Hartson.

Even Remi Garde made more Arsenal appearances than Campbell. Yet he’s just fired Costa Rica to the World Cup with a clinical winner in their play-off eliminator against New Zealand.

Los Ticos were favourites to progress to the finals but made heavy weather of beating a spirited New Zealand side and were indebted to Campbell’s early strike.

With the game just three minutes old, the Monterrey striker slotted his low left-footed strike into the bottom corner to secure Costa Rica the final qualification slot for Qatar 2022.

It was the kind of strike, dispatched with the efficiency of an over-zealous traffic warden slapping a parking ticket on your temporarily parked vehicle, that made millions hundreds squeal like they’d just heard their tiny Gloucestershire village read out on the news.

Campbell, of course, is already a World Cup cult hero. His goal against Uruguay kickstarted Costa Rica’s run to the quarter-finals in 2014 and produced a clamour of English interest from commentators who’d suddenly remembered his Arsenal roots.

In fact, his only appearance in England before then came for Olympiacos, when he took on Manchester United in a Champions League last-16 tie three months prior to the tournament.

He’d already announced his credentials with a stunning strike in the first leg and, coupled with his World Cup performances, Wenger was convinced to reintegrate him into the Arsenal squad.

But the Costa Rican was limited to a handful of appearances before being loaned to Villarreal in January 2015.

During an April 2020 interview for TD Mas, Campbell revealed that Arsenal had declined an offer by Benfica to sign him because “they [Arsenal] told me they needed me because Giroud was injured,” before signing Danny Welbeck anyway.

And, by the time Campbell appeared at the 2018 finals in Russia, his Gunners contract had expired. His experience in north London was a damning indictment of the hoarding nature of the richest clubs, determined to cling on to their ‘asset’ with scant regard for Campbell’s well-being.

But all that’s in the past. Campbell and Costa Rica will head to the World Cup and, despite a tough group containing Spain, Germany and Japan, will fancy their chances of causing some damage.

And their presence in Qatar will cause a certain thrill. Even in our globalised world, with knowledge and insight into the far corners of the globe, footballers haven’t ‘made it’ until they’ve proven themselves in the Premier League.

Only Lionel Messi, and perhaps Kylian Mbappe, are exempt from this judgement. It’s the footballing equivalent of bands ‘breaking America’.

The World Cup will provide an antidote to this narrow-mindedness. And Joel Campbell is living proof of the healthy footballing eco-system outside of the Premier League.

By Michael Lee


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