23 June 2014

Club or country? Question's closed. Can Campbell seal the deal?

Ahead of this World Cup, as with many, the question comes up in some form or another: would you rather your country or your club win it all? It's a bit of a silly either/or question as it's rare, to put it mildly, for clubs to face off against countries. Those who follow England and Arsenal have so far been spared any undue questions about Gunners facing England because (a) it hasn't happened yet, and (b) England is eliminated, thus shearing Tuesday's England-Costa Rica clash of any drama and Gooners of any conflicts of interest. That settled, we're free to cheer on Joel Campbell, hoping he can use Tuesday's clash as well as those that follow to prove his worth to Arsène. I just hope he doesn't overdo it, for Arsenal's sake, if not England's.

Costa Rica, the lowest-ranked country to make it to the World Cup, were widely expected to be grateful for an appearance and a quick cup of coffee before being rudely jettisoned by Italy, England, and Uruguay. Instead, they sit atop Group D on the strength of two victories, thanks in no small part to Joel Campbell. A draw against England would secure that top spot, and as we lay to rest any hopes of England's advancement, we're free to enjoy Campbell's exploits.

Playing alone atop Costa Rica's 5-4-1 formation, Campbell has at times dazzled with his blistering pace and creativity while showing that he can lead the line and offer himself as a target for hold-up play, at least enough to prompt some intemperate comparisons to Balotelli, as in should we really go for Balotelli if we can simply recall Campbell, who's on loan to Olympiakos? Keeping mind that we're judging Campbell on a very small sample size (two World Cup matches, maybe two Champions League matches against Man U, a smattering of Greek League games, it hardly seems fair to compare him to Balotelli, who's played for Inter, Man City, and AC Milan, not to mention the azzurri, and done quite well for himself, well enough to be worth upwards of £30m. Then again, he's a bit of a nut, wildly inconsistent, just as likely to get a red card two minutes after being asked not to as he is to score a cracking goal. I've wondered whether Arsène could wrangle him, but that's a bit of a moot point as we haven't signed Balotelli.

We can have Campbell without any headcase-questions or worries that he'll set the room on fire (literally, not figuratively). He's so far used the World Cup to show what he can do, and here's where it gets tetchy. At 21, what we're seeing is simply glimmers of potential. If he could do reliably what he did against Uruguay, well, there would be no question that we should have him back in the squad. However, he hardly lit up the Greek Super League, scoring eight goals in 25 starts and 6 sub-ins. Is he really ready to make the leap to the Prem? Based on that body of work, it's hard to feel entirely confident. Then again, if he continues to shine for Costa Rica, it could give him the confidence and experience he needs to make that leap. If Costa Rica draw with or defeat England on Tuesday, Costa Rica finish atop Group D and get a more-favorable draw for the next round, avoiding other potential group-winners such as France, Germany, or Argentina. Ivory Coast instead of Colombia from Group C (thanks to pallladio43 for the correction).

Can Campbell use the World Cup stage to make his case for coming back to Arsenal? Aye, but there's the rub. If he does too well, we run the risk of Arsène deciding we don't need a Balotelli-esque signing. After all, we'd have the crème de la Cup already. He's a Gunner (though he hasn't played a minute for the club), and I want Campbell to do well—just not so well that he adds heaps misery on the English team and not so well that he convinces Arsène that he can be like a new signing. He is, after all, young and slight of frame (1.78m, 71kg) and unused to the rigors of the Prem. With England playing for little more than pride, I'll have a keen eye on Campbell, hoping he strikes that perfect balance between "good enough to rejoin Arsenal and contribute" and "not quite good enough let Arsène relax in the transfer window". Whaddaya say, Joel?

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