Triple challenge for Ticos' Campbell

Joel Campbell has plenty to keep him occupied at the moment. Currently preparing for Saturday’s CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter-final against Honduras, the 18-year-old forward will shortly head off to Argentina with the Tico U-22 team for the 2011 Copa America. And as if that were not enough, he will later make the trip to Colombia to represent his country at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Faced with such a dizzying schedule, Campbell could be excused for feeling a little overwhelmed by it all. But when tracked him down to discuss his past, present and future, the young Saprissa striker was as relaxed as could be.

Life in the limelight
“I was born in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, although my family is from the English-speaking area of Limon, which explains my surname, and I’m the third of four children,” he says by way of introduction, before giving the background to his increasingly promising football career.

“I started playing football when I was seven and my first club was Alajuelense. When I was 12 I went to Saprissa, the club I’ve always supported, and where I’ve stayed ever since. At international level I’ve played for the U-15, U-17 and U-20 Costa Rica teams and now I’m with the full national team.”

We’ve got a great team and we can go far. We keep possession of the ball extremely well and we have some very skilful individuals up front.
Joel Campbell on Colombia's U-20 hopefuls

A virtual unknown at the start of the year, the speedy front-man put himself in the spotlight with some exceptional displays at the CONCACAF qualifying competition for Colombia 2011, gaining unanimous recognition as the striker of the tournament.

So what are his strengths? “I’m clever, fast and good on the ball, though I think I’m at my best in one-on-one situations,” he explains, before quickly turning the focus away from the individual to the collective. “Rather than speak about myself, I’d prefer to think about the team. Anything I’ve achieved lately has been down to my fantastic team-mates, who’ve helped me so much.”

Those storming displays in the regional U-20 qualifiers in Guatemala did not go unnoticed elsewhere in the world and earned him comparisons with Samuel Eto’o, though he plays down any possible similarity with the Cameroonian star. “Ronaldo has always been my idol and role model but I don’t think I’m like him, Eto’o or anyone," he said. "I try to take the things they’re each good at and learn from them. I watch what they do in the pitch and try to put it into practice.”

No shortage of ambition
As his showings in recent days at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup have proved, the fast-maturing Campbell has the ability to bridge the divide that separates senior and U-20 football, scoring against Cuba in Costa Rica’s tournament debut. “It’s more demanding,” he says, in reference to the step-up in class. “There’s a lot more pressure and the stadiums are always full. This whole experience will be very useful for me when it comes to the World Cup in Colombia.”

Staying on the subject of Colombia 2011, Campbell believes Los Ticos have a fighting chance of pulling off a surprise: “We’ve got a great team and we can go far. We keep possession of the ball extremely well and we have some very skilful individuals up front. We’re really going to go for it at the World Cup.”

Before he can take a tilt at a world title, however, he has two other pieces of silverware to pursue: the Gold Cup and the Copa America. And if he and his team-mates fail to lift them, it will not be down to a lack of desire. “We’ve come to the United States to be the champions and the Honduras game is the first step towards that,” he says in defiant mode.

“Then we’ll be looking for some revenge against Mexico in the semis. After that comes (the Copa America in) Argentina, which will be tougher for us because we’re only taking an U-22 side. We’ll be working hard, though, and giving it our very best shot, and if we can get through the group phase, we’ll have done really, really well.”

Rounding off our chat, the smiling Campbell describes what he likes to do when he is not giving opposing defenders the run-around: “I watch football, including other leagues and other teams, but I also love spending time on the computer and with my family. And then there’s PlayStation with my friends. I never choose myself, though. I always select other sides.”