A Different Week – Craig’s battle to be Bell of the ball at Cardiff City

Less than two weeks after David James became the shock transfer of the Football League this has now been ‘out-shocked’ by the surprise move of Manchester City’s Craig Bellamy to hometown club Cardiff City on a season-long loan. Although Bellamy himself was a Bluebirds fan as a boy, the move has still raised plenty of eyebrows, not least in the white half of North London, where Harry Redknapp had long been expressing an interest in bringing the Welsh international striker. Tottenham or Cardiff? It doesn’t seem a particularly tough call. One is a Championship club in serious financial difficulties and the other is in the process of qualifying for the Champions League. Arguably a move to Tottenham would have been a step up for Bellamy who, love or loathe him, is undeniably brilliant. But Bellamy had other ideas and in his first press conference at Ninian Park, he revealed that it was family reasons, as well as his childhood loyalty to the Bluebirds, that brought him across the Severn Bridge. “My wife and kids live here and I’ve spent the last six years travelling up and down the road,” he said. “I left home at 15. I’ve always wanted to come back but I wanted to come back at the top of my game…it’s a great challenge for me.”

Hold on. A player leaving one of the biggest clubs in arguably the greatest league in the world to play for the team he supports and be nearer his family? How refreshing! All quite admirable really, especially for someone who has had more than his fair share of controversial moments throughout his career. The Cardiff fans certainly seem pretty chuffed and with a sudden boost in season ticket sales, City are expecting a 23,000 sell-out to see their new hero make his Bluebirds debut when they take on Doncaster Rovers this Saturday. Likewise the club shop has also been busy. In the three hours after the signing of Bellamy was announced, around 3,000 City shirts with ‘Bellamy 39’ on the back had been sold. Even when the shop had run out of 9’s and Y’s, impatient fans simply settled for ‘Bellam 3’ instead.

However, there is no shortage of ‘whys?’ elsewhere, as the move has riled a number of football club chairmen, upset over the special arrangement the two Citys have with regards to Bellamy’s wages. Cardiff’s off-field problems have been well documented, and until recently they were under a transfer embargo due to their crippling debts. Manchester City, of course, are right at the other end of the financial spectrum and this is where the controversy starts. At Cardiff, Bellamy will continue to receive the £85,000 a week he is paid at Eastlands. However, Cardiff will only have to stump up £35,000 of this, with the remaining £50,000 being provided by Bellamy’s parent club. With the wealthy Citizens bankrolling the deal, Cardiff have secured the services of a top class striker at a fraction of the price. Understandably, the Bluebirds are rather pleased with themselves over this shrewd bit of business but other clubs are less inclined to celebrate Cardiff’s coup, with Leyton Orient’s chairman Barry Hearn suggesting the deal is unfair on other Championship clubs who work hard to live within their means, yet cannot afford to bring in players of Bellamy’s calibre and will subsequently struggle to compete with Cardiff on the pitch. Others who have spoken out against the move include QPR chairman Gianni Paladini and Peterborough boss Gary Johnson. Watford chairman Graham Taylor was also critical, saying: “Manchester City can afford to do what they want…but what they have done is to let one of the best players in the Premier League last season drop into the Championship to join a club who have survived four winding-up orders…something is not right.

“Realistically, how many Championship clubs can afford to loan a player of his quality and on his wages? This shows there are still things happening in football, including the loan system, where the rules and regulations need tightening up.”

It is partly because of the rules and regulations that the move came about in the first place. With the Premier League’s new 25-man squad rule, top-flight clubs with large squads find themselves needing to trim their playing staff down to avoid being lumbered with expensive players ineligible to play. Manchester City seemed rather desperate to get the out of favour Bellamy off their wage bill, but will no doubt be more than happy that he went to a Championship club, rather than a Premiership rival and if this attitude prevails, Bellamy could soon find himself being joined in the Football League by other big name stars.

Bellamy may have joined Cardiff out of loyalty to club and family, but it might not be long until other big names join him in England’s second tier for far less sentimental reasons.

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