After The Dust Settled: Sol Campbell & Macclesfield Town, Two Months On

One of the biggest problems with the modern media is the pace at which it runs. The constant need for a churn of stories to grab the attention of readers and to make everything SEO-friendly means that we sometimes only hear part of a story. No-one has the time to look back. The next story is always more important than the last, and in the frantic world of professional football, nowhere is this clearer than in coverage of the appointment of a new manager. Such a departure is reported with a relish that borders on glee, but the arrival of their replacement is frequently treated as the end of a story, when it really marks the beginning of a new chapter.

At the end of October last year, for example, there was a cacophony of noise surrounding the appointment of Sol Campbell into the manager’s job at League Two club Macclesfield Town. In more than one respect, it was something approaching a perfect news storm. On the one hand, Campbell is a former England international who played in the Premier League for four different clubs. Such high profile former players are seldom forgotten after they’ve retired from playing. On top of this, Campbell had failed to land himself a managerial position and had been extremely vocal about the reasons why he felt that might be.

Adding another dimension to it was the degree of likelihood that one of 2018’s hottest topics, racism (whether intentional or not), might have been partly responsible for his lack of opportunity. As we noted here at the time, “We can never say for certain that the reason why it took so long for him to get a managerial position was the colour of his skin but, if we’re completely honest with ourselves, we can’t say that it wasn’t, either.”

In comparison with the thunder of attention that he received upon his appointment at Macclesfield, the arguably more important story of what happened next seems to have been somewhat overlooked. This wouldn’t, it’s highly likely, have been the case had the team’s wretched start to the season continued under his tutelage, and it may well not have done had they won every single game since he’d taken charge, either.

As things stand, though, Campbell’s two months in charge of the club have been quietly encouraging. Macclesfield still sit in the relegation places at the foot of League Two, but they’re off the bottom of the table and are now just a point behind third from bottom Morecambe with four wins and three draws from his eleven matches in charge. They’ve got a chance of avoiding relegation now, and that’s considerably more than they seemed to have before Campbell was appointed.

Reports indicate that there has been significant improvement on the pitch from the players since his appointment, in both attitude and fitness, and the last five days have brought two very useful wins, away at Grimsby Town on Saturday and then at home last night against an Oldham Athletic side who knocked Fulham out of the FA Cup at Craven Cottage a couple of weeks ago and had previously been unbeaten since Boxing Day. These results have left Notts County looking increasingly marooned at the bottom of the table, but have positioned Macclesfield as very much still in with a chance of avoiding relegation this season.

Macclesfield’s Boxing Day fixture, away at Notts County, might turn out to have been a significant turning point in their season. Two goals from Scott Wilson gave them a two-one win which lifted them off the bottom of the table for the first time since the middle of September, and although their next three games only returned a single point, these three games all came against teams in the top half of the table, whilst the results of the last five days only now seem likely to instil even greater confidence in a team which had given little impression of having any whatsoever throughout much of the first half of the season.

Even a failure to keep Macclesfield out of the bottom two in the division this season wouldn’t necessarily be a reflection upon Sol Campbell’s abilities (or otherwise) as a manager, though. The club’s promotion into the Football League at the end of last season came despite having one of the lowest wage budgets in the National League, and the club’s financial position is unlikely to improved massively since then. The odds were stacked against Macclesfield Town being able to stay up this season before a ball was even kicked.

Is it too early to cast a judgement over Sol Campbell the football manager after ten games in charge of his first club? Well, yes. Of course it is. There’s nothing definitive that can be assumed from ten matches, no matter which manager or club we’re talking about, though we should also note that the club’s turnaround began under caretaker-managers Neil Howarth and Danny Whitaker, who recorded the club’s league win of the season against Carlisle United in October. What we can say for certain is that it’s been a decent and solid start, and that Macclesfield Town have a reasonable chancing of avoiding relegation from the Football League this season. And that’s more than most of us would have realistically believed a couple of months ago.