Michael O’Neill has revealed how close Tyrese Campbell was to leaving Stoke City last January when both Celtic and Rangers were keen on signing him on a pre-contract.
Campbell has since become a key man for the Potters and penned a new long-term deal at the club but looks set to miss the rest of the 2020/21 campaign due to injury.
The 20-year-old was out of favour and in the final year of his contract when O’Neill took charge at the Bet365 Stadium in November last year and, speaking in an interview with The Athletic, the Northern Irishman revealed just how close he was to losing the attacker.
He explained: “Tyrese was going out of the club when I came. He’d checked out; six months to go, could sign a pre-contract, go cross-border. There was interest in him from both Celtic and Rangers. We were looking at compensation of £400,000. I had him in, spoke to him, but I didn’t have the time to invest time in Tyrese. I was busy trying to assess the other 28 players we had.
“In the first few weeks, he was not involved that much. Then we brought him in to training and one day they did some finishing work. I said to Billy, ‘What was that like?’ He said, ‘Tyrese is the best finisher at the club’. I said, ‘Right. OK’.
O’Neill added: “We did another finishing drill on Christmas Eve and I put Ty in the squad for Boxing Day. He came on against Sheffield Wednesday and scored the equaliser, then we won the game. He then played against Huddersfield on New Year’s Day and scored twice. He was a different boy. Two weeks later he signed a new contract, and he’s not looked back. He was a perfect example of a player who’d fallen through the cracks a bit because of the volume of players.
“It was like signing a really good young player. I was at Hearts vs Rangers after that. I was in the boardroom and (Rangers director) John Greig came over to me and said, ‘You kept your striker, didn’t you?’ I said, ‘Aye’. He was laughing. Rangers had high hopes. It would have been easy for Tyrese to leave.”
Campbell has gone from strength to strength since, adding nine goals and two assists in the second half of last season and making a breakneck start to the current campaign.
The forward scored six times and provided seven assists in 16 Championship games before suffering a knee injury that looks set to keep him out for the rest of 2020/21.
Other clubs have shown an interest since last January, with Premier League duo Wolves and Burnley the latest to be linked.
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O’Neill has done a fantastic job since taking charge of Stoke, a club that looked a little lost before his arrival.
Keeping Campbell, tying him down long-term, and getting the best out of him is arguably his most important action as Potters boss so far.
The forward will already be worth much, much more than the £400,000 compensation Stoke looked set to receive and with three and a half years left on his deal, the Championship club have no obligation to sell him any time soon.
Campbell’s recent injury may mean a January departure is much less likely despite the reported interest of Wolves and Burnley.