Macclesfield Town were dead and buried before Sol Campbell took over the reins last November. It would be hard to provide an argument to counter that statement.
It’s safe to say the former England and Arsenal defender is one of football’s most misunderstood characters.
That’s probably one of the reasons why he had to wait so long to get his first break in management – something he has grasped with both hands.
Campbell’s passion for the game is immense, and after many unsuccessful attempts to land a job in the Football League, his luck turned when he landed the Macclesfield gig in late 2018.
That is of course, if you class a position with the EFL’s basement club – as they were then – a ‘lucky’ break. They were seven points adrift of safety in League Two after all.
On May 5, the final day of the regular season, it was mission accomplished for Campbell – Macclesfield had completed a miraculous survival.
A run of just two defeats in their last ten games proved critical as the Silkmen successfully fought off relegation, finishing three points clear of second-bottom Notts County.
So after that rollercoaster season you’d probably be expected Campbell to be rewarded with a new and improved contract or even just handed sufficient funds in a bid to try and take the club forward?
Campbell has been to hell and back during his six-month tenure to date at Moss Rose; player revolts, unpaid wages, a lack of communication with the board – you name it.
Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT, Campbell – who we can reveal hasn’t been paid by the club in over two months – underlined just how ‘difficult’ his spell at Macclesfield has been to date.
“The early days in particular were very, very difficult. Coming into this environment I had to deal with a lot of things,” he explained. “There was no structure and cohesion and absolutely no foundations in place.
The games that secured Macclesfield’s survival
Campbell’s side lost just two of their final ten League Two matches to finish three points clear of the drop and stay in the Football League
- Yeovil 0-2 MACCLESFIELD
- MACCLESFIELD 2-2 Stevenage
- Lincoln City 1-1 MACCLESFIELD
- MACCLESFIELD 1-1 Morecambe
- MACCLESFIELD 3-2 Exeter
- Forest Green 2-0 MACCLESFIELD
- Northampton 3-1 MACCLESFIELD
- MACCLESFIELD 0-0 Newport
- Port Vale 0-1 MACCLESFIELD
- MACCLESFIELD 1-1 Cambridge
“When I rocked up I was fighting so many fires – behind the scenes it was non-stop drama.”
Despite suggestions otherwise, Campbell was up for the fight. He lives and breathes football after all.
He added: “People were thinking to themselves that this was too lowly a position for me… so can he roll his sleeves up? Does he know the league?
“Does he really want to be here as he’s used to the plush conditions that he was accustomed to as a professional footballer? The answer to that was, yes.
“What these people don’t realise is my upbringing was quite rough already. I was prepared to look past those things and roll my sleeves up, as it’s all about football for me.
The 44-year-old has been pushed to his absolute limits in this job.
“I had to start putting the foundations in place – and win football matches at the same time,” he explained.
“That is as well as closing the gap behind us and the other sides fighting relegation.
“I started crying after we stayed up. This job has taken so much out of me, emotionally and physically. I was crying with relief, really.
“I’ve almost been like a psychologist, as well as a football manager. I’ve had to guide these players and inspire them, but get inside their brains as well. It was my responsibility – I had to do all that by myself.
“Almost every single player at the club needed to be rebuilt – mentally, emotionally and football wise.
“I had to give these lads the belief that they could be somebody. And then you have the fans, they don’t really know me so draw their own conclusions – I’m new in management after all.
“We had to be well prepared, because if we hadn’t of done that we wouldn’t be in the league now – it’s as simple as that.”
So how did Campbell deal with issues like unpaid wages at the club? Did it have a big impact on his job?
“The whole situation completely stripped me down to be quite honest,” he admitted.
“I just had to be honest with the guys – all that was left was football.
“We all needed each other and I understood the players’ grievances and anger. At the same time I had to remind them that their reputations were on the line: ‘Do you want to get relegated? Who wants that on their CV?’
“People don’t realise how much it takes to pick these players up, players who aren’t getting paid and because of it are more than likely getting a hard time at home.
“You can’t do that to human beings – it’s emotional torture. If they are struggling at home with it all, that’s obviously going to affect the player as well.”
He continued: “It doesn’t matter if it’s one pound or a thousand pounds. In the end it comes down to principle and respect. Forget the amount… it’s how you’ve been treated.
“If you treat people the right way then they’ll show you that same respect back. I don’t know if respect is being fed through the club at the moment – I really don’t.”
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Campbell, who revealed the Macclesfield squad were a ‘whisker’ away from boycotting games due to the financial crisis, said he still has a relationship with the club’s owner.
“I need to have a real conversation with him,” Campbell continued.
“What is the playing budget for next season? Are we going to sort the pitch out? Where are we going to train next season? What’s going on with staff wages?
“The players need answers, so do the fans and so do I. Only then you can start planning for the future and getting your structure in place.
“I don’t know when I’ll get these answers though. I’m very flexible. If we can stay up with no budget last season then surely we could do something different next season? But don’t make it hard for the sake of being hard.
“It’s hard enough playing against other opposition – it’s almost like we’re self-harming ourselves. Let’s build for a bright future – that’s what’s it’s all about.
“Who knows what the future holds but all I do know is I want to leave this club in the best possible position I can when I do eventually move on.”
Despite all the hurdles Campbell has faced in his short managerial spell to date, he has no regrets and says he’d still join Macclesfield if he went back in time and had to make the choice again.
And he has no plan to quit, either.
“It’s so hard to get a job in football, so why would I just throw it away like that,” he declared.
“I’ve worked damn hard to get into this position and I don’t want to just give it away. That isn’t me – I’m not that type of person.
“I’m not giving up on Macclesfield. I’ll make it work, whatever way I have to.
“But don’t take loyalty for weakness. Some people in this world work for free for the love of the game. And that isn’t right.”
And moving forward?
“There’s tons of work to do at this football club, we need to make improvements all over the place.
“We can’t have a smoking mirrors situation again. I need to get things organised at the end of the day.
“I don’t want to embarrass my contacts saying I’m doing this and that, but then it never happens.
“I want to do a proper job with Macclesfield, but I need to know what is going on.”