I was travelling back from France when I heard the news. Birmingham City, on deadline day, had signed DJ Campbell from Brentford for £500,000.
At the time, it stunk of desperation by Blues. Campbell had recently scored two goals against Sunderland as The Bees took the Premier League side’s scalp in the FA Cup. I had watched that game and felt he looked dangerous that day, but didn’t think he could do it at the top level, despite a wonderful first goal.
Sure, he had shown great composure and finishing ability, but Brentford has bought him for £5,000 from Yeading – surely he couldn’t cut it in the Premier League? At first, I was correct. But now, four years later, DJ Campbell is proving me wrong.
At the time of his move to Birmingham, Steve Bruce obviously felt otherwise.
“He is someone who is quick, direct and young (Campbell was 24 when he signed.) He is a bit raw but he has a good eye for goal and is an exciting player,” Bruce told the BBC at the time.
Blues were a Premier League outfit at the time, but Campbell didn’t get too much game time that season. In fact, he scored his first goal for Birmingham against Colchester United in a 2-1 win the following season. That season, DJ started 24 games and managed to bag an impressive 12 goals in all competitions as Blues were promoted at back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
However, that was to be it for Campbell and he was sold to Leicester City for an initial £1.6million. A series of loan spells, including two at Blackpool, meant that Campbell never got settled enough to make an impression at City.
The second of his loan spells at Blackpool turned out to be the making of Campbell. Bought in by boss Ian Holloway to help maintain a surprise play-off push, Campbell made 18 appearances and scored 11 goals, including a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest in the second leg of the play-off semi-final. All three of Campbell’s goals that day were finishes that any player would be proud of.
His first was a deft chip over the onrushing goalkeeper, his second came after a neat one-two with Stephen Dobbie and a composed curling finish with his weaker left foot. But his third was what Campbell has been all about this season, Dobbie struck a shot from the edge of the area which Lee Camp parried out, but DJ reacted quicker than anyone else to simply tap-home and complete his treble.
This was the loan spell that convinced Holloway to splash out £2million in the summer to make Campbell a permanent Tangerine. Not bad going, especially as Holloway had said in the past:
“When DJ Campbell goes for £2m – and really he’s only played in Birmingham City’s reserves and Brentford’s first team – it’s absolute madness.” (BBC Sport column, 2007)
And the money looks to be well spent, as Campbell has flourished this season, complemented by Blackpool’s fresh and attacking approach to Premier League football. On his Blackpool ‘debut’ Campbell scored the Seasiders’ second goal in a 0-2 away win at Newcastle. He received the ball to feet, spun his marker and fired in with his left foot from the edge of the area.
It was a month before Campbell struck again against Aston Villa and another month before he scored the winning goal for ‘Pool away at Stoke. The goal was made due to fantastic positioning and anticipation from Campbell. Charlie Adam fired a tame shot into the box and Campbell managed to stick his leg out in front of the Stoke defender to poke home – a predatory strike.
That seemed to be the catalyst for Campbell’s season and the next weekend he followed his winner against Stoke up with another two clinical finishes away at Sunderland.
His first was a cross flicked on and Campbell came alive, as he always seems to, in the six-yard box and sidefooted home.
His second was a counter-attack at the end of the game, but still showed fantastic movement by Campbell. Matt Phillips broke down the right and crossed to the back stick where Campbell had sprinted to finish again.
This chalkboard, with thanks to the Guardian for providing, shows that DJ isn’t afraid to have a shot from distance, but that he comes alive in the area. Notice how his two goals have come from his movement and positioning inside the six-yard box to find himself where the ball lands.
Campbell hasn’t looked back since that winner at the Brittania and last night against Liverpool made it two in two at Bloomfield Road. DJ again came alive in the area against his old team Birmingham City, latching onto a Gary Taylor-Fletcher knock-down, he had the composure to control the ball on his thigh before firing into the far corner.
Last night’s goal against Liverpool showed that Campbell has all the instincts to become a top Premier League poacher. A cross into the box was nodded back across the goal by Ian Evatt and Campbell once again found himself in the right place at the right time to score with a diving header.
This is Campbell’s Guardian chalkboard from last night’s game against Liverpool. The shot from the edge of the area was a blocked shot, but all the other shots Campbell had during the game came from no further than 12 yards out. The white spot denotes where DJ scored from, showing that his diving header was directed back across Pepe Reina and into the far corner, something which takes great technique and control.
Campbell’s ability to score from inside the box with his right foot, left foot and now his head has proved that he deserves his place in the Premier League and could be the man to score the goals to ensure Blackpool keep their top-flight status.