Craig Bellamy EXCLUSIVE: I'm not angry now I've found happiness at Cardiff

22 March 2011 03:35
Calmer: Craig Bellamy insists his spell a hometown club Cardiff City has mellowed and improved him as a person

At the end of a gravel drive, high in the green hills above Cardiff, Craig Bellamy sits in the front room of his boy-done-well pile and reflects on his life and career. This home is material proof of a life transformed from the streets Bellamy grew up on. Now he says he is changing again. 'I'm at a crossroads.'

The home town Bellamy returned to on loan last August from Manchester City has had effects he did not anticipate. Eight months ago, Bellamy would not have been talking about unemployment in Merthyr Tydfil, but he is now, or about Women's Aid Day, or childhood obesity in Wales or the comforts of parenting.

For the first time since he left Cardiff for Norwich as a 15-year-old - 'a troubled kid', in his phrase - Bellamy, 31, has lived with his wife and family. For the first time since he left Norwich in 2000 - barring a short loan at Celtic - Bellamy has not been a Premier League mover and shaker.

This coincidence has brought the greatest change because, according to Craig Bellamy, Craig Bellamy is nolonger angry.

This will come as a shock to former colleagues and possibly to some at Cardiff, too, but the man Sir Bobby Robson described as 'a great player wrapped round an unusual and volatile character' explained why he thinkshe has mellowed.

'I have always been angry at everything,' said Bellamy. 'I played on anger for the first 15 years of my career. I moved away when I was 15. I moved away from my girlfriend, who is my wife now, and my Nan, who has now passed away. You miss everyone.

'Even just walking down to the bottom of your street, where you grew up, those moments are taken away from you as well. So I was always angry about that as a kid.

'I spent nights crying myself to sleep with homesickness. I spent months with that in Norwich, months when I was looking for any excuse to get out of it. I would try to break every rule.

'But Norwich were very cute. I look at everything I have, where we are sitting now, I look at my children and everything I have is due to that. They treated me as a human being when I was growing up. They were very patient. I was a troubled kid.

Silencing the doubters: Bellamy makes his long awaited return to the international set up against England

'I blamed everyone else because I was living away from my wife and kids, so I was going to try to make you pay for it on the Saturday. Now, even if I spend the Friday night away in a hotel, just one night, I can't wait to get home.

'Before, I would spend all my hours at training, come home, sleep, eat, watch football, sleep and go back to training the next day.

'Now I do the school run, train, pick up my daughter, I am living in the real world and I am a father now. That has given me more satisfaction than football, in terms of responsibility, being here with your children day-in, day-out. But I feel that it has taken a little bit out of me, I feel like I have maybe lost some of my edge.'

On his reputation.'I am not the greatest citizen. but I'm more good than bad'

On growing up.'I spent nights crying myself to sleep with homesickness' 

Sceptics might note it is a week since Bellamy and Cardiff faced a misconduct charge following a recent incident in the tunnel at Reading. Bellamy was acquitted; Cardiff were fined ?5,000.

But part of his self-questioning is due to the standard of Championship football, part wear and tear. Michael Atherton recently wrote about his career-long dependency on the painkiller Voltarol and Bellamy knows all about it.

'This winter hit me harder than any other winter,' he said. 'I have arthritis in my knee. It is difficult. I am changing as a player as well. Every player comes to a certain age when they have to adjust. I remember when Ryan Giggs hit 31, he was adjusting. He wasn't gliding past players any more and Man United fans were giving him enormous stick. It looked like he might be leaving United.

'But the truly great players are able to adjust. He has gone on to a different part of his game. I am nowhere near the player that Ryan Giggs is, I don't have his capabilities. Do I want to try and adjust my game or finish where I was? I always knew this was going to be a crossroads.'

Looking to the future, Bellamy is thinking of coaching. He may have been alarmed by Championship pitches and style, but wearing Cardiff blue has been a boy's ambition fulfilled. Given what he said about injuries, he has nevertheless played 27 of Cardiff's 38 league games, but he does not feel he is the City striker who scored two goals at Old Trafford last season.

On West Ham.'The happiest time in my career was probably at West Ham. The first year I was injured but the people were great. They just had that humour, and the supporters were funny. Even if they were giving you stick, it'd be funny stick.

'The training facilities were poor but if you bitched about it the first thing you'd hear was, 'Well, it was good enough for Bobby Moore'. How do you answer that? You can't.'

  'It's been the hardest football of my career. It is a tough league. Norwich and Swansea are the two teams who do look to play. They will keep playing no matter what. The rest of us are more of the same really.

'The Premier League takes so much spotlight and you realise that more when you come out of it. Not many people know who you are playing on a Tuesday night and that's tough. Would I recommend it to anyone else? Definitely not.'

But it has been educational. Anyone familiar with Bellamy knows he is a football obsessive. Recently he was visited in Cardiff by a large group of Feyenoord fans because, despite playing for nine British clubs, Bellamy has always expressed affection for Dutch football and Feyenoord in particular.

It was for the Cardiff versus Preston game. Bellamy was man of the match, the award now sitting in a room adjacent to the photograph of him shaking Nelson Mandela's hand on a Man City trip to South Africa.

'Coming down (the league pyramid) has woken me up. If I ever wanted to go into management and I'd been in the Premier League all my career, I'd fall short. That's what I can take from this. Asking friends to come on loan, I've seen that side of football and I can imagine all Championship clubs have that.

'The club wanted us to go away on a break recently but we'd have to pay for ourselves. We didn't go. A lot of the players couldn't pay it. This is what it is, this isn't the Premier League, this is real.

Giving something back: Bellamy is a popular figure in once war-torn Sierra Leone having opened a football academy there

'If I want to go into coaching, I will definitely have a look at what Blackpool are doing. I feel Swansea are involved in it as well. These are the clubs that have just gone, 'Sod it, we're not going to be like everyone else, play percentage football, we are going to go our own way and we don't care what managers come and go'.

'Holland, Spain, they have a certain type of football. At coaching level, these are the blueprints that interest me.'

Bellamy has 60 caps for Wales. Disappointment comes with the territory - Wales are already bottom of England's group, pointless. But Gary Speed is the new manager, Saturday will be his first competitive game. Bellamy is both excited and realistic.

On Dalglish coming home.'I supported Liverpool as a kid. It's great to see Dalglish there. I love the bootroom mentality, that was Liverpool Football Club. When you support a club, you have to understand what made it so great - Shankly coming, the bootroom.

'They'd all sit in a room, and two or three of them would go on to win the European Cup! What conversations must they have had? From a shoebox, they created a club.' 

'We have a new manager who's had to take a wage cut from the Championship. The only way we can achieve anything as a nation is for people like me and former players to work within Welsh football, but to do it for free, to give something back.

'I'm willing to do that and you can see that's what Gary's done. This isn't about him, isn't about him trying to get another job. Something needs to be done here.

'At grassroots level in Wales we've been playing four-a-side for a few years. So we're aware. Swansea are setting the benchmark with their philosophies on how they want to play. I feel we have to start getting an identity as a nation 'This is how we play and these are the type of players we produce'. For too many years we were letting other countries have a free run of our national stadium.'

Bellamy talked up Swansea midfielder Joe Allen and, more obviously, Gareth Bale.

'Gareth Bale can do everything, he can even take long throw-ins. He's an athlete, but we don't want him running 60 yards every time. He can come inside, then go back out again. Giggs was capable of that, it means the full back doesn't know which way to show him.

'I remember Warren Barton at Newcastle. We used to say to him, 'Why didn't you show Giggs inside?' Warren'd say, 'I ******* have but he's gone back outside again!''

Adaptation: Ryan Giggs is an example to Bellamy in the way the Manchester United legend has developed his game over the years

Bellamy was as baffled as the rest by England's 2010 World Cup. Failure was not due to a lack of quality, as he said: 'Before the tournament you had certain players being lined up to be knighted.

'You're going into it with the best centre half in the world, the best centre forward in the world. But tournaments don't work out like that. Germany were brilliant because they went with a group of players who were given freedom.

'England just looked because so much was expected of them tense, so tense. Are England players scared? I remember Steven Gerrard, before playing Andorra, saying he didn't want to give the ball away because he was afraid of the boos. That's Steven Gerrard, one of the greatest players in the world over the past 10 years. He felt that, so imagine that environment?

'At the World Cup it was just too rigid. I thought they got broken in between the lines. It just didn't look right. You look at the players, they got to Champions League finals. Do the players want it? Of course they do, they don't play for England for money.'

On England.'Their top stars just looked so tense during the World Cup' 

Transferred for ?45million over the years, on around ?5m a year at City, Bellamy knows about money. He once had none.

He has set up an academy in Sierra Leone and is planning to start a girls' league there. But it is being back in Wales that is re-shaping him.

'I'd never ventured into the Valleys,' he said. 'About a month ago I went to see a school and it was horrendous, the facilities were awful. Cardiff were supporting the Valleys football schemes. A run-down old playground.

'I can't go and build an academy here because I have done that in Sierra Leone, which needed it more, but I have to donate time to raising awareness in places like the Valleys. Poverty, obesity in Wales, it's horrendous.

'I'm from Cardiff and for me that's always been about it, as Wales goes. But playing for Cardiff has made me realise a lot of our fans come from the Valleys, Rhondda, Merthyr, Aberdare, they are diehards.

'Coal mining was the way of life in the Valleys. Speak to someone now in Merthyr and it'll take an hour and 20 minutes to get to Cardiff for a job, which is hard to get in the first place. Employers in Cardiff will give a job to someone five minutes away.

City slicker: Bellamy aims to return to Manchester City and fight for his place next season

'So what do these people do in Merthyr? There are no jobs for them there, so you have a population of 30,000 800,000 in the Valleys who are doing what? And what are their kids going to do? Wales is full of pockets like that.

'I've always been aware of stuff but it's easy when you see stuff on the telly, it's someone else's problem. Probably because of the age I'm at and because of my children, I need them to see I'm capable of more than playing football.

'I go to see kids who are having problems. I saw a group of juvenile offenders, 16, 17, on a course in Cardiff. I spoke to them for a while, I had a lot in common with them, I had a kid at 17. I went through a lot of what they're going through.

'I went down a different path but that side of me, where I grew up, still gets me in trouble. I'm not saying I'm the greatest citizen in the world far from it, I will always have my moments but there's a hell of a lot more good in me than there is bad.'

Changing strips: Bellamy has caused a stir at each of his nine clubs

(left-right) Sent off for Norwich in 1998; despair for Coventry in 2000; celebrating a Newcastle goal in 2004

(left-right) Beating Rangers with Celtic in 2005; a close call for Blackburn in 2006; cheering a Liverpool goal in the same year

(left-right) Scoring against Pompey for West Ham in 2008; calling the shots as a Manchester City forward in 2009; and feeling the pain on loan at Cardiff this year

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 Explore more:People: Nelson Mandela, Craig Bellamy, Michael Atherton, Ryan Giggs, Gary Speed, Bobby Moore, Bobby Robson, Gareth Bale, Steven Gerrard Places: Liverpool, Newcastle, Cardiff, Norwich, Germany, Wales, Spain, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, South Africa, Andorra Organisations: Liverpool Football Club

Source: Daily_Mail