It says everything about the mad world Sol Campbell has occupied in club management that the goalkeeper he intended to use for a Southend United away game at Bolton was sold in the time it took the team bus to reach the stadium.
‘I came off the coach and then our keeper was gone,’ he relates. ‘Gone to Man United! “OK! Can I play him?” “No, he’s a Man United player now.” It was lucky I had an extra keeper.’
It got substantially worse after Nathan Bishop’s departure in January last year. When Southend’s second choice was subsequently injured at Coventry, an 18-year-old had to be called on.
Sol Campbell failed to make the final stage for the vacant England Under 21 manager role
Campbell left the club last summer after eight months. They’ve just dropped into the National League after back-to-back relegations.
Southend and Macclesfield Town – where Campbell reveals players were paid so intermittently that some refused to play for him – is not the kind of managerial proving ground that one of English football’s most accomplished centre halves should be forced through. But that is often the bleak reality when a player of colour decides he wants to coach.
The 46-year-old has applied for 16 managerial positions since 2011. Only one – Sunderland – have interviewed him.
It seemed hopeful when the FA asked him to apply for the England Under 21 job – usually a sign that a prospective employer is interested. But he didn’t make the shortlist and hasn’t yet been told why.
The FA asked him to apply for the England Under 21 job following Aidy Boothroyd’s departure
‘It was an honour [for me] to be asked “would you like to apply?”’ he says of the approach from the FA’s recruitment people, Nolan Partners.
‘I don’t know why they were speaking to me. Probably just want to see me and see if I could fit the mould; fit what they were looking for. They want to hear from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. I’ve still not had a proper conversation.
‘That was just kind of through the agency. It would be nice to have a chat, almost a de-brief on the interview. I have heard that there is a possibility to have a de-brief whenever they chose the next manager.’
His deference is striking, though generations of would-be black managers will tell you that this is how they’ve always had to play things. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t jeopardise your already limited prospects.
While Campbell’s England contemporaries, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, have been given shots at clubs with resources and profile, he has reached the stage where he would simply take a few months at a club with some kind of budget.
Campbell’s (right) England contemporaries, Steven Gerrard (left) and Frank Lampard (middle), have been given shots at clubs with resources and profile
‘I see that [other ex-England players have had chances],’ he says. ‘I would like an opportunity like that. I wouldn’t mind if someone just gave me six months at the back end of a season to see what we can do.
‘I won’t say try before you go [for me], but it should be a chance to see what you can do and I’m very good at making sure that I can get the best out of situations. I don’t need the whole team full of stars, I can work with most budgets, I’ve never had a budget! Had two clubs, no budget. Judge me on if I’ve had four or five clubs with decent budgets, good players, judge me on that.’
It is a point Harry Redknapp, his former Spurs manager, makes in a revealing talkSPORT documentary on Campbell which airs on Thursday. Judging Campbell on the opportunities he’s had so far is impossible, Redknapp says.
Theo Walcott tells the documentary makers he’s astonished Campbell only captained England three times. Walcott feels he has never had the acknowledgement his game warranted.
The FA indicated that the Under 21 recruitment process had not been completed and it was then that feedback tended to be issued.
Lampard was given the Chelsea job while Gerrard has enjoyed success at Rangers
But the governing body would have been better able to judge Campbell’s capacity to make more success of the Under 21s than Aidy Boothroyd has if they had asked him to work as a defensive coach with the senior or age group squads.
Give the former Arsenal and Tottenham defender’s 73 England caps an availability, a phone call does not seem to have been beyond the bounds of possibility. No-one has called.
‘I don’t know why,’ he says. ‘I think they’ve probably got enough and are happy with their coaching staff. Even if it’s part time you can make a difference. But they’re happy with what they’ve got. I would love it. I’m always up for my country.’
He seems an eternal optimist, believing that a chance will come, and is not entirely convinced that he wants a Rooney Rule, mandating clubs to interview someone like him. But little more than a year on from the death of George Floyd and all that flowed from it, he wonders if football has really moved on.
‘Just look at the numbers and you see it hasn’t changed,’ he says. ‘Things may be happening behind the scenes that I don’t know about. But visually it’s not happening.’
Being Sol Campbell is broadcast on Thursday evening from 7pm on talkSPORT and is available visually at the same time on the talkSPORT YouTube channel