Joel Campbell on the Lorient Express to Arsenal
International breaks be it during the summer or in the middle of a season conjure up different emotions between all types of football fan. Club fans pray for the safe return of their precious heroes. Fans of the more unsuccessful clubs get a chance shake off their weekend disappointment and root for the favourites for a change. On the field it gives players that don’t play week from week a chance to grab the spotlight and enhance their reputation.
This summer Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell used the Copa America to his advantage, his performance against Bolivia in their second group game made a number of people sit up and take notice of this raw and very talented 19-year old. With the scores level Campbell collected the ball down the left-wing, beautifully turned inside his man, played a defence splitting pass to Allen Guevara, the shot was saved but Josué Martinez followed up to take the lead.
Campbell was not finished, with 10 minutes to go he lost his man down the left, found by a superb pass, his first touch got the ball under control his second touch was a lovely instinctive finish placed low under the Bolivian goalkeeper. Everyone watching either in the stadium or on television could see there was something special here. Almost instantly there was a new darling of the gossip columns.
Not to miss out on a very talented player Arsenal quickly stepped in and secured Campbell’s signature. Uncharacteristic of Arsene Wenger he mentioned Campbell’s move before pen was put to paper. The excitement of bringing Campbell on board was clear in Wenger’s speech as he spoke to their official website:
“Joel Campbell has already shown that he is a player with great ability, and has also performed well on the international stage at a young age. We look forward to the formalities of the transfer being completed and working with Joel when he joins us at Arsenal.”
Wenger’s plans were thrown a spanner when Campbell failed to obtain a work permit. As was with Carlos Vela the club would need to send Campbell out on loan to not only gain experience but to hopefully continue his progress with the national team and gain a work permit in 12 months time.
Deciding on what club would be best for his development, the London club had the pick of some of Europe’s best. As we know now it would be Ligue 1 side FC Lorient, the move surprised a few however since the signing of Laurent Koscielny there has been an unofficial link between these two clubs. Lorient President Loic Fery explained more to French Football Weekly:
“There is actually no formal link in place between the clubs, but there is an actual relationship, that works and which I guess has so far been a “win-win” interaction for the two clubs.
“As I live and work in London, Arsene Wenger offered to meet in person. During this meeting, I told him we were interested to take Francis Coquelin on loan. Before being certain that we would accept to transfer Koscielny, Wenger agreed to the loan of Coquelin, who become the first of several Arsenal players who have joined Lorient in the past two seasons.”
With a partnership growing between the two clubs President Fery was obviously delighted to secure Campbell’s loan deal:
“Despite loan requests from other more established European clubs, Arsenal kindly decided to loan Campbell to Lorient. Campbell is a very talented player and I believe he will strongly sharpen his game while at Lorient.”
The transfer window had barely shut and Campbell was already making an instant impact on his new team-mates. Down by a goal Christian Gourcuff brought the forward off the bench with ten minutes to go. Charging through the centre his lovely first touch pass found fellow new boy Innocent Emaghara and the Swiss forward scored, winning Lorient a great away point. An instant impact from Lorient’s new boys.
Gourcuff continued to use Campbell as an impact sub. Usually making an appearance for the last half an hour the 19-year old continued to impress. Showing great pace and an excellent touch the forward still looks very raw but all the potential is there to see. Happy to drift left or through the centre, he has played as both a lone forward or as part of a duo. Under the guidance of mercurial coach Gourcuff, the sky is the limit for the youngster.
It didn’t take the Costa Rican long to open his Ligue 1 account. Playing at home against Valenciennes the scores were level when Campbell powered into the box and used his strength to hold off Valenciennes defender Benjamin Angoua, confidently converting Kevin Monnet-Paquet’s near post cross.
October ended on a high for the striker scoring the winner against Montpellier in the Coupe de la Ligue. Mathieu Coutadeur’s sublime pass inside the right full back put Campbell through on goal, confident of his abilities he didn’t take a touch before placing the ball under Laurent Pionnier and subsequently fired Lorient into the cup quarter-finals.
After that early success Campbell has found himself back on the bench, in-fact he hasn’t featured since the 3-1 defeat away at Brest. Not his best game but the youngster looked isolated upfront on his own in what was a poor Lorient performance. The team have since recovered from that defeat and continue to play Gourcuff’s excellent brand of passing football. For Campbell it is all part of a steep learning curve.
Luckily it seems like Arsenal and Lorient have a young mature player on their hands. Speaking to French Football Weekly the forward told of his desire to learn and improve:
“Every game is very hard, both home and away, it’s always hard. It is a good league. Defenders both from Africa and European are very tough. I want to play every game this season, but I know I have to practice very hard to play.”
When asked what he thought of his new team and the style of play under Christian Gourcuff, Campbell was very complimentary:
“They are a very good team, they like to play good football, similar to Arsenal and Barcelona. It is a lot fun to play here.”
Moving from Costa Rica to France was a huge step for Campbell. His English is not perfect but like his talent on the pitch it is a work in progress. Lorient fans will enjoy what the forward has to show in the next few months and after his stunning goal this week against Spain it is very clear that Arsenal fans have great player to enjoy for years to come.