“Dream big,” said one of his recent tweets, and it is an accurate reflection of the excellent year Costa Rican front man Joel Campbell is currently enjoying. More to the point, however, these very substantial dreams are now coming to pass.
Where to start? The Tico forward has just won his first major honour after clinching the Greek league title with Olympiacos with five games to spare. “It’s a very important achievement in my career,” he acknowledged in an interview with FIFA.com.
Next up is the UEFA Champions League Round-of-16 second leg against Manchester United at Old Trafford, with his side leading 2-0 lead from the home fixture. Indeed it was Campbell himself who scored the second of those two goals, a rasping, curling effort from almost 25 yards out:
“It was all impulse; I saw the goalkeeper and simply hit it," Campbell said. "My father was in the stands, so it was a proud moment." Knocking out the powerful Red Devils would be a marvellous story for a player whose next dream is to have a chance in the English Premier League with Arsenal, the team to which he has been contracted since 2011, but for which he is yet to play.
The Gunners have loaned him out in consecutive seasons to Lorient in France, Betis in Spain and now the Greek champions. “I’ve always been ready, I need them to give me the opportunity, which is what I’m working towards,” Campbell added.
If good club performances are not enough to convince Arsene Wenger, Campbell has another ace up his sleeve – a very probable appearance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil. “Being able to represent your country in every game is a really wonderful experience," he said. "Obviously reaching the World Cup in Brazil is very important for everyone."
We’re delighted to have the opportunity to face such high quality opposition. I still believe we can get through the group stage.
The rise of this 21-year-old has been nothing short of meteoric. In 2009 he competed at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria before gracing the U-20 equivalent in Colombia two years later. “I think I’ve matured a lot, personally and as a player," Campbell explained. "I’m no longer the same Campbell, but I feel very happy with my growth.
“I feel comfortable playing in the middle and as an out-and-out striker, but for me the most important thing is to work hard and do what the coach asks – i.e. make the most of my mobility, drive at goal and use my technical qualities to help the team."
The big challenge
Costa Rica qualified for Brazil 204 with two games to spare, finishing second in the table behind USA in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying. Luck was not on their side in the Final Draw, however, as Los Ticos landed in Group D with three former world champions in Uruguay, Italy and England. So is it the dream or nightmare scenario?
“To be honest it’s a dream," Campbell said boldly. "We’re delighted to have the opportunity to face such high quality opposition. What could be better than facing some of the best in the world in Brazil? I still believe we can get through the group stage.”
Perhaps the most heated duel will be against Uruguay, the country that denied them a berth at South Africa 2010 via the play-offs. “I watched that match at home with my family and it was a huge disappointment," Campbell concluded. "But that’s all history now. Things change quickly in football and now we have to seize this chance to take our revenge."