Tuesday, August 9

Pura Vida for Joel Campbell

By @hahostolze

The saga may rumble on for a few more days or weeks, but according to most of the reliable Arsenal bloggers and tweeters, not to mention Costa Rican newspapers and other media outlets, Arsenal have a deal in place for 19-year old striker cum winger Joel Campbell. For my good friend, RealSocialDad, I decided to compare him to the biggest star in our young striker firmament, Benik Afobe.

First off, I want to mention that as a former Costa Rica inhabitant, I have seen quite a bit of Costa Rican football. And it is quite bad. The football combines the physicality of African descendants with the laziness (no offense meant) and technical prowess of Latin American players. However, that creates quite a messy football match. Now, I recall having seen at least two matches in the stadium, and a few on telly, playing on loan for Puntarenas.

Puntarenas is a rather weak team, who were allowed to use the biggest talent Saprissa (the biggest club in the nation) have, for two seasons. He played both as a striker and a left winger. What impression did he leave on me? Not too much, to be honest. He was 18 at the time, very rough, but very exciting. Compare him to Afobe, and the latter was much more refined at that age. Campbell would not stop running and trying, which is good, but he seemed uneasy with his choice of foot.

Now when I see Campbell, I notice he uses his left foot a lot. I asked around in Costa Rica and particular in San Jose, where Saprissa is from, and the town of Puntarenas, where I spent some weeks working, and the people I spoke to say that he has developed a lot. His left foot has become his weapon. Some of his strikes remind me of Roberto Carlos in his prime: amazing power yet controlled with technique and the cleanest of strikes. They also mention how his footwork and passing have gotten much better. Not unlike our own Benik Afobe, Campbell is powerful and very fast, like a Samuel Eto’o or a young Nicholas Anelka. Combine this with a growing technical ability and a fantastic finish, he should be one amazing striker. Some CR football people question his work off the pitch, and perhaps his mentality as well. His talent is not doubted though, and whether he plays behind the striker, as a high winger in a 4-3-3 (the preferred system in Costa Rica) or as a out and out striker, Joel Campbell is a great talent whose combination of physical ability and technical skill will make him a tremendous asset. If his left foot remains as sweet as it is, and Wenger can screw his head on right and give him a proper footballing brain, he will go far.

So the comparison with Afobe. Fast, powerful, get in behind the defenders or run at them. Also a very good finisher. A better out and out striker than Campbell at the moment. More capable of heading and hold up play. Links well with Chuks Aneke, Oguzhan Ozyakup and in the past Jack Wilshere too. Campbell is not at that stage. He is more a (taller) Walcott with a sweet left foot. He will learn to be an out and out striker in due time, I do think. He has all the needed abilities. My biggest doubt is whether a backwater competition like the Costa Rican can be a good judge of his ability. But then again, he is scoring goals for fun at the U-20 World Cup in Colombia and scored in the Copa America too. Benik Afobe was great for Huddersfield and England last season. Campbell is easily worth the 1.2m we are quoted at. Whether he will be better than Afobe, only time will tell.


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