After a summer of protracted negotiations, Campbell has joined the Black Cats on a four-year contract, and is Bruce’s first signing on Wearside. Hull City had seemed to be the front-runners to secure the England U21 striker’s signature, having agreed a £6m fee with United back in June, but while Campbell was participating in the U21 European Championships and then relaxing on holiday, Bruce and Sunderland swooped to leave Phil Brown and Tigers fans dismayed.
Former Reds skipper Bruce has been a long-standing admirer of Campbell, having tried to take him to Wigan last summer, only being foiled by Fraizer’s inclusion in the deal with Tottenham that brought Dimitar Berbatov to Old Trafford. Now he’s got his man, and for what on the face of it seems to be a bargain price. The £3.5m fee can rise to a maximum of £6m over the course of the striker’s initial contract, with further payments likely to be dependent on appearances, goals and Sunderland’s progress.
Campbell leaves Old Trafford with an impressive reputation for someone who made just four first-team appearances under Sir Alex Ferguson. The Huddersfield-born youngster joined United as a trainee in the summer of 2004 having already scored eight goals for the U17 side as a schoolboy, and continued that goalscoring form throughout his initial scholarship, scoring 24 times for the academy and 14 more for the reserves in those first two full years. His partnership with Giuseppe Rossi in Rene Meulensteen’s successful reserve side was particularly enjoyable to watch.
That form saw Campbell join United’s Belgian affiliate club Royal Antwerp on loan for the 2006/07 season, along with his friends Danny Simpson, Darron Gibson and Jonny Evans. Along with Gibson, Campbell spent the full campaign at Bosuilstadion and earned a place in the hearts of Great Old fans with his goalscoring exploits, bagging 21 goals in 33 games and earning the nickname ‘Super Campbell’ as Antwerp came agonisingly close to securing promotion to the Belgian top flight.
That eye-catching stint elevated Campbell into the first-team picture at United in the build-up to the 2007/08 season, and he made his Reds debut from the bench in the derby defeat to Manchester City that August. Another sub appearance followed against Coventry City in the Carling Cup, but defeat that night meant first-team opportunities would be hard to come by, and – recognising this – Sir Alex loaned the striker out again, this time to Hull, who were of course still in the Championship at that point. Campbell hit 15 goals to finish top scorer as the Tigers achieved the fairytale of promotion to the top flight, and was on hand to provide the assist for the goal that got them there – Dean Windass’ winner in the Playoff Final.
Interest in Fraizer was widespread last summer, with Hull keen to retain his services for their first crack at the Premier League and Wigan, as already stated, also interested. Initially Sir Alex looked to have opted to keep Campbell at United after another strong pre-season, and the 21 year-old featured in the Community Shield before making his one and only start for the club, on opening day against Newcastle. All that was to change on transfer deadline however, with Spurs refusing to do business with United over Berbatov unless they could take Campbell on loan for the season.
SAF reluctantly agreed, and Fraizer headed south for what was to be a frustrating campaign at White Hart Lane. With Spurs a club in turmoil in the early part of the season and a change of manager soon forthcoming, Campbell never really got a run in the side, new boss Harry Redknapp’s purchases of Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane relegating the young loanee to fifth-choice in the pecking order. Fraizer did score his first Premier League goal in a defeat to Fulham, and enjoyed the sort of experience every United fan dreams of when scoring twice to help knock Liverpool out of the Carling Cup, but overall it was something of a wasted year, even if the player said all the right things about learning from the experience.
One positive came in the form of a continued presence in the England U21 setup last season, Stuart Pearce not being put off by Campbell’s lack of first-team opportunities. Culminating in last month’s Euro U21 finals, Fraizer racked up 13 appearances and four goals for his country, although his last outing saw him pick up a red card that would rule him out of the final.
Genuine first-team football may have been scarce for Campbell in his time at United, but highlights were there in the form of two league titles and MSC and LSC victories with the reserves, as well as several goals in first-team friendlies, most notably last summer in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s testimonial. For me personally, one real highlight was his brilliant four-goal haul in a 6-0 reserve mauling of Manchester City at Ewen Fields in 2006.
Now it’s time for him to show what he can do with his new club, all parties seemingly agreed that now was the time to move on. Speaking to SAFC.tv earlier today after passing his medical and putting pen to paper, Fraizer was looking forward to the next chapter in his career:
“Sunderland are an ambitious club who are going to go forward with the financial backing they have here. I know they are looking to bring in quality alongside some very good existing players. It was an easy decision to make.”
Steve Bruce was obviously delighted at seeing off strong competition for Campbell’s signature:
“We’re delighted to have signed such a promising young footballer. We’re very pleased he’s chosen to join Sunderland. Fraizer’s already shown what a fantastic talent he is, but we hope this move will take him to another level.
“We need quality and competition right across the pitch and he’s the type of player who can really excite our fans.”
As well as linking up with Bruce, Fraizer will find familiar faces at the Stadium of Light in the form of Kieran Richardson, Phil Bardsley and Paul McShane, as well as another former United academy graduate David Healy. We wish him (and them) the very best of luck.