Real Betis isn’t as prestigious a club as Arsenal — [insert joke about Arsenal’s decaying relevance in world football here] — but it’s where Joel Campbell belongs.
The 25-year-old has been passed around Europe more times than a Kardashian. His previous loan spells include time at Lorient, Olympiacos, Villarreal, Sporting Lisbon and Betis — his first stint with the Verdiblancos coming in 2012-13.
It was then that he showed that French fuck, Arsene Wenger, that he could play at a high level in Europe.
Fast forward four years. He’s delivering that message yet again. Except this time, he shouldn’t concern himself with a return to North London.
Seville is where his career will finally take the much-needed next step.
Just three months after suffering a serious knee injury on international duty, Campbell returned to the pitch last Sunday. Down 4-0 to Valencia in the 77th minute, the expectations were reasonably low. Merely seeing him on the pitch was a small victory.
Then, he reminded the world of his prowess in the final third.
Betis would eventually fall to Valencia 6-3, but Campbell was instrumental in every aspect of the failed comeback. His talents were properly utilized by manager Quique Setien, and that’s the key here. In Setien, Campbell has a manager that actually knows what the fuck he’s doing.
He has a manager whose philosophy suits his style.
“He is a coach who likes to play with the ball at his feet,” Campbell said of Setien, per Nacion. “From the goalkeeper, [he] has a style of play that is very aggressive and offensive, with possession of ball. He inspires a lot of confidence with the players.”
“We always play on the front foot, creating spaces, moving off the ball, and [I can be] an aggressive midfield player in attack and also when defending.”
For all the jokes of Campbell’s loan history, many fail to point out the different roles he was forced to play along the way. What do you expect to get out of him as a wide midfielder in a vanilla 4-4-2? Why would you prioritize his defending as a winger in a 4-2-3-1, instead of awarding him the freedom to attack?
Why would you limit the skill set of a young player looking to find his footing on foreign soil?
That’s the monumental mistake managers like Wenger and Marcelino have committed over the years. That’s the lesson Setien has learned.
Campbell has benefited as a result.
In his first start for Betis since 2013, Campbell was deployed as an inverted winger in a 4-1-4-1. The attack-minded approach allowed the Tico to tuck in centrally, creating spaces for an overlapping fullback. It’s exactly what led to Betis’ first goal in its 2-0 victory over Alaves on Saturday.
Watch him as he holds up the ball, follows his pass and creates the space for Antonio Barragan to run on to.
For 62 minutes — you can’t expect him to go the full 90, as he’s still returning from injury — Campbell displayed the technical tenacity and soccer IQ synonymous with his game. He finished completing 96 percent of his passes, taking on four defenders and creating one chance, per WhoScored.
It took five years, but he finally looked perfectly in place.
There’ll always be that urge to prove you can play at a club like Arsenal — it’s human nature — but it’s also an exercise in futility. The only mistake Campbell committed in North London was being born in Costa Rica. There’s no longer a need to fit in where you’re not wanted.
Besides, Betis checks all the boxes.
Top league. Check. Competent coach. Check. Playing time. Check. Competitive team. Check.
Considering the changing landscape of world football, it might even be an upgrade.
Editor’s note: Obviously, the financial aspect will come into play when talking about Campbell’s future. He’s under contract at Arsenal and the club has made it clear the transfer won’t be cheap. That aside, the point still stands. Betis would be wise to invest in him if fiscally possible.