Andrew Tuft’s Monday Column – Hell’s Bells finds salvation at City

Few players in the Premier League era have caused as much controversy as Craig Bellamy. Spats with teammates, opponents and staff, as well as on-field transgressions, have punctuated the Welshman’s career so far – overshadowing and even oppressing the undoubted talent the lightning-paced forward possess.

For too long Bellamy was a standard bearer for a bratty generation of footballers who achieved little but had their mediocrity rewarded by massive pay cheques. Some turn around then, as the former Liverpool man has become one of Manchester City’s key players as well as donating both his time and money to the Craig Bellamy Football Foundation in war-torn Sierra Leone. In the mad house that is often the City of Manchester Stadium, the Wales captain has grown to stand as one of the Sky Blues’ most vital players on the pitch, and a shining light away from it. Having begun his career with Norwich City in 1997, Bellamy has seen the highs and lows football has to offer, with relegation, a Champions League final and everything in between. Permanence is not one of the defining characteristics of the City No.39’s time, however. In the 13 years since making his debut, Bellamy has worn the shirt of nine different clubs, never spending more than four years in one place, and often just a season in the colours of a particular team. Coventry City, Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool all got 12 months out of the Cardiff-born striker before he was on the move again.

So far, the closest Bellamy has come to realising his potential is at Newcastle United, where the combination of his explosive pace and Alan Shearer’s powerful leading of the line threatened to propel the Magpies to glory. But St. James’ Park was also where Bellamy’s disciplinary problems began. Writing in his autobiography Farewell but not Goodbye, Sir Bobby Robson, who brought Bellamy to the North East, said Bellamy was: “A great player wrapped around an unusual and volatile character”, and it often showed during his time on Tyneside. Take, for example, the chair-throwing incident involving Bellamy and then-Newcastle coach John Carver, when the Welshman hurled a chair at Carver at Newcastle Airport. On the flip side, Shearer and Bellamy shared more than 40 goals in their first season together, with the latter being awarded the 2001/02 PFA Young Player of the Year award in recognition of his excellent season.

A few months later, Bellamy was red-carded for kicking out at Inter Milan’s Marco Materazzi in a Champions League game. A three-match ban followed but it was another dismissal, that of Robson, that proved a turning point in Bellamy’s career. The former England manager was replaced by Graeme Souness, and it would be hard to find a more contrasting set of personalities than the former Liverpool midfielder and his predecessor. Having been nurtured by the genial Robson, Bellamy was soon at odds with the abrasive Souness. Only five months into the Scot’s tenure, after one falling-out already, Bellamy was dropped for a visit to Arsenal. The official word was injury, but Souness claimed in a post-match interview Bellamy had refused to play on the right of midfield. Bellamy gave his own interview, saying he was prepared to play anywhere for Newcastle but admitted to threatening faking an injury ahead of the match with the Gunners. The Welshman went further, accusing Souness of lying over the issue. Souness responded by announcing Bellamy would never play for Newcastle again as long as he was manager.

And so it proved. Bellamy joined Celtic on transfer deadline day but the furore did not stop there. Text messages, allegedly from Bellamy’s mobile phone, were sent to Shearer after Newcastle were defeated in an FA Cup semi-final. Shearer, one of the most iconic Newcastle players in history, threatened to “knock his block off” if Bellamy returned to Tyneside. Bellamy denied the messages were sent by him, claiming to have lost his phone while in Ireland with the Celtic squad. His time north of the border proved fruitful, generating 12 goals in 15 games, helping the Bhoys to a victory in the Scottish Cup. But when his loan ended, Bellamy was on the move again to Blackburn Rovers.

A year under former Wales boss Mark Hughes proved to be just what Bellamy needed as he regained his form, netting 17 goals as Rovers climbed to sixth place. Rafa Benitez soon came calling taking Bellamy from Ewood Park to Anfield for £6.5m. A tepid season in front of goal followed, but Bellamy again made headlines for an unsavoury incident involving John Arne Riise and a golf club. Following a training trip to Portugal, Bellamy was one of a number of players to return to Merseyside facing club sanctions, but it was his altercation with the Norwegian that attracted the greatest attention. After a drunken karaoke session where Riise declined to join in, Bellamy’s taunts directed at his teammate proved too much for the current Roma full-back to take and the pair were on the brink of fisticuffs before cooler heads seemingly prevailed. That was until Bellamy, brandishing a golf club, found Riise and allegedly attacked him. But in the first match since the clash, Bellamy proved to be a hero, scoring once and setting up the second, for Riise, as Liverpool beat Barcelona 2-1 in Spain. Bellamy famously celebrated with a putting stroke and the victory proved to be a pivotal stop on Liverpool’s road to a second Champions League final under Benitez, but Bellamy was an unused substitute for the defeat against AC Milan.

On to West Ham, and it was at Upton Park that Bellamy’s rehabilitation began. Perhaps it was the spells out injured that gave Bellamy time to reflect, but when he returned to fitness, the baggage of the past was gone and, bar a minor flare-up towards the end of his time in east London, what happened on the pitch was the focal point. Alhough his appearances were limited, Bellamy’s strike-rate was good, averaging around a goal every three games in a side not especially noted for their scoring prowess. A rumoured fee of £14m took Bellamy back north to Manchester City and reunited him with Hughes, and with his compatriot’s guidance, Bellamy grew in stature, to the point where City fans were up in arms at record signing Robinho being selected ahead of their most unlikely hero. Bellamy has earned his place in City hearts, however, with displays combining his trademark devastating pace and a maturity previously missing from his game.

When protests from the City players over Hughes’ sacking were reported – and Bellamy was central to them – the reaction from fans and pundits alike was much different than it would have been in the past. Bellamy was considered a clear head in this situation, a sentence that would have seemed impossible to write five years ago. After a career of peaks and valleys, Bellamy may finally have found somewhere to permanently call home.

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