CHANGE OF MAGPIES
Ex-Toon starlet Adam Campbell on starting anew with Notts County
ALAN Shearer. Michael Owen. Gazza. Gianfranco Zola. For a couple of years, Adam Campbell couldn’t kick a ball without being compared to the game’s greatest names.
Prolific at youth level, England honours, a debut for Newcastle at 17. According to gaffer Alan Pardew, it was only a matter of time until the flamehaired youngster hit the heights.
“I gave Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain his debut at 16 at Southampton,” said the current Palace boss after Campbell’s first game in August 2012.“I did the same with Mark Noble with West Ham, and Jonjo Shelvey at Charlton. Adam’s debut was as good as any of them. If we manage him properly, he’ll be as good as he wants to be.”
So why, three years on, is the 20-year-old starting over at Notts County? Was he overpressured? Mismanaged? Never good enough in the first place?
An open, bright and articulate lad from the famous old shipbuilding suburb of Wallsend, Campbell speaks with the wisdom of someone well beyond his years.
There is no bitterness or anger, simply an honest analysis of a dream gone sour, coaching failures and a kid unprepared for the ruthlessness of top-flight football.
“It wasn’t the hype,” insists Campbell, who joined County in July.“I couldn’t honestly stand here and say being compared to Shearer or whoever had a detrimental effect. I didn’t care.”
Nor does he agree with Toon stalwart John Carver’s assessment that he was rushed into the first-team too soon.
“No, it wasn’t that either,” he says. “It was more the fact that when they dropped me back down into the reserves, the coaches didn’t explain why.
“Nobody said, ‘This is what you’ve done wrong, this is what you need to do to get back’. There was no ‘Cisse’s come back from injury’, or ‘We don’t think you’re ready yet’. They just put me in the team for three weeks, took me back out and then ignored me.
“If it happened now, I could deal with it. I know I’m only 20 but I’ve kind of been around the game for four years and I now know that’s part of life. I’d knuckle down, push for an answer.
“Back then, I was an immature, young 17-yearold who knew nothing and didn’t know how to deal with it. I was waiting for someone to come and explain, getting frustrated and confused.
“It’s not like I’m holding a grudge because I’ve learned a big lesson. Basically, I was just a bit too naive. I didn’t know what football was all about and the poli- tics that go on behind the scenes.You don’t realise everyone has their own agenda to worry about. Nowadays I’m more clued up.” Campbell’s story is particularly pertinent given the current state of affairs at Coventry, where Newcastle’s 18year-old loan star Adam
Arm- strong has sparkled with five goals from the opening three League One games.
The pair are good friends and, with Armstrong now generating hype of his own, Campbell is keen to be the mentor he never had.
“Me and Armo are good mates,” he adds. “He’s a great lad who’ve I’ve got a lot of time for. We’ve been out golfing and gone for a bite to eat a couple of times. If he ever needs any help or guidance, I always try to help him out.
“To be honest, I think he’s a bit more switched on than I was at 18. He’ll not have a problem. But when I was his age, I really needed someone like me to share their experiences.” Was there nobody to lend an ear or an arm?
“Not really,” insists Campbell, who also spent time on loan at St Mirren and had trials with West Brom. “At that time, there weren’t a lot of English players there. Probably the closest I had to a mentor was actually Hatem Ben Arfa. He was the only one who would stop back and help.
“It was just little things, ‘If you’re in this position, try to do this’ or ‘Be selfish – look to get more shots away’ or ‘Next time, take him on, don’t cut back’.
“Rather than completely ignoring you or going about his own business, he did actually go out of his way to help young players.
“He got some bad headlines but fans and people outside of the club don’t see the real person. At the back end of his Newcastle time, Hatem’s head wasn’t right. But I worked with him day in, day out for a yearand-a-half and I can’t speak highly enough of him.”
In typical Mike Ashley (owner) fashion, Campbell’s time at Newcastle ended shabbily. “I’d been to the cinema,” he recalls. “And when I came out I had a load of tweets on my phone with people saying ‘Gutted for you’ and things like that. That was the Friday. On the Monday I got a letter through the post signed by Lee Charnley (chief executive) saying I was being released.
“To be fair, you could tell that I wasn’t wanted. I’d come back from a loan at Gateshead and you immediately picked up a vibe from the coaches – they know you’re not going to be there next season so nobody’s that interested in you.
“In my heart of hearts, I knew it was coming. But nobody sat down with me or had a word. I didn’t get a phonecall like Ryan (Taylor) and Jonas (Gutierrez).”
Still the harsh lessons kept coming; first the hunt for a club, then the bear-pit of a lower league trial.
“At a club like Newcastle, you don’t really get a lot of trialists,” he laughs. “It’s all big names. So when I came to Notts County and there’s like ten of us scrapping for a contract, you’re thinking ‘Woah, what’s going on here?’”
Toughened by his experiences at Newcastle, Campbell made it through. Now, free of the hype and frustration, he is ready for a fresh start under maverick manager Ricardo Moniz, a former ‘skills coach’ at Tottenham.
“Working with the gaffer is very different to anything I’ve known before,” he admits.“He’s out on the training pitch for an hour after training telling us how to beat a man, how to cross, how to shoot.
“He’s all about attacking football, about not taking a backward step.Wingers have to go past a man, strikers have to get in the box. Midfielders have to follow in. As a forward, I’m really enjoying working with the man.
“Am I pleased to be out of a big club? Yes and no. I loved playing for Newcastle. Everyone wants to play for their hometown club and, being there for so long, it was strange to leave.
“But the way things were, I had to leave. Even if I’d been offered another year, it would have been a year of the same treatment – no guidance, loaned out here, there and everywhere. Then I’m a year older and my career is slipping away. Here I get to start fresh and hopefully put some of my experience to good use.”
ADVICE: Hatem Ben Arfa helped Campbell
LEFT: Adam Armstrong celebrates scoring for Coventry
RIGHT: Notts County boss Ricardo Moniz wants his side to play positive, attacking football