16 years ago, Sol Campbell moved across North London in a deal that delighted Arsenal fans and horrified Spurs fans in equal measure.
The former Tottenham captain had spent nine years with the club, winning one league cup, before he traded it in to become a double-winning ‘Invincible’ with the Gunners.
In just five years at Highbury he won three FA Cup trophies, two Premier League titles and a Community Shield, being part of one of the greatest Premier League sides ever put together, before leaving for Portsmouth in 2006.
The Standard recently did a piece on the move, where they re-told the story of his transfer. Unlike the transfers of today, where “Announce Lacazette” was the most popular reply to any Arsenal tweet for weeks, back in 2001 it was a lot easier for clubs to keep deals secret.
So when Sol arrived up at a press conference with Arsène Wenger, there were apparently only two journalists who turned up to see it, both under the impression it was Richard Wright from Everton being unveiled.
Arsène told the club website that “it was difficult for him (Sol) but this man is not afraid of big decisions” and this certainly needed to be the case for him to make that move.
In recent times it’s become more common for players to move between rivals, with Petr Cech and Cesc Fabregas trading places, for example. But 2001 was the era of Tony Adams and Lee Dixon, players that would spend 14 years or more at one club.
Sol’s move was always going to be cast as either ‘bravery’ or ‘stupidity’, depending on how the next few years went.
Luckily for Sol, he was joining an Arsenal side that went on to justify his move year-on-year, adding trophy after trophy before his eventual departure.
Spurs fans call him ‘Judas’, but I’m not sure Sol minded much when he had a Premier League trophy and the FA Cup in each hand, or when his team became the first side in living memory to win the English league unbeaten, or when he carried the FA Cup out at Wembley in May 2017 on behalf of Arsenal for the final Spurs couldn’t make it to.
From Wenger’s point of view, going for this unexpected deal was well worth the effort.
He only knew the full significance of the move later on, when he saw the reaction of the Spurs fans in Sol’s first North London derby.
But the benefit for the team was clear from that first season on, and it’s unlikely you’d need two guesses at what either of them would say if you asked them if it was worth it.