Craig Bellamy once joked that if he ever wrote an autobiography he would call it “Don’t Google Me”. There’s good reason for that, too; the Welshman’s career is defined a by a string of controversies and fallouts that both detracted from and inhibited his undoubted footballing ability.
After beginning his career at Norwich, Bellamy became Coventry’s record signing in August 2000 at £6m. Just a year later – a year that he ‘did not once enjoy and felt totally demoralised’ – he swiftly moved on to Newcastle, sparking the beginning of a tumultuous relationship with the club and the first of many infamous Bellers bust-ups. Bellamy produced some fine form in his first season with the Magpies though, scoring 14 goals and picking up the PFA Young Player of the Year award. His talent was clear for all to see – his blistering pace, instinctive creative capacity and knack for goalscoring meant he could be a real asset for any club. These should be the abiding memories of Bellamy’s career but instead it is the long list of infamous misdemeanours that will tinge his legacy.
The list of those misdemeanours is so ridiculous that it verges on comical. Bellamy received 80 yellow and three red cards over the course of his career – surprisingly low for a player so volatile. It was off the field where he often made the biggest headlines.
In the build-up to a UEFA Cup clash with Real Mallorca in 2004 he reportedly threw a chair at Newcastle assistant John Carver after a confrontation about him stealing Carver’s parking space. The pair ended up grappling on the floor but Bellamy insists he threw the chair away in order to get to Carver and it nearly hit Shay Given instead! Sir Bobby Robson’s astute man management was required to resolve the situation and Robson later wrote about Bellamy:
“He’s a great player wrapped around an unusual and volatile character… He’s the only man I know that could start an argument with himself.”
Sir Bobby Robson
Graeme Souness replaced Robson at Newcastle and Bellamy’s relationship quickly went south after Souness suggested Bellamy refused to play right midfield against Arsenal. A war of words followed and Bellamy was eventually fined £80,000.
The Welshman then moved on loan to Celtic where he spent five months under Martin O’Neill, where he played 15 times scoring nine goals. His flashes of brilliance in the SPL again underlined his qualities. He was always a cut above in a league which he describes as “probably below the English Championship”.
A successful but injured tinged spell at Blackburn gave birth to a move to Liverpool and the scene of his most infamous footballing crime. During a week of warm weather training in Portugal, Bellamy took exception to John Arne Riise’s refusal to participate in a karaoke night. Riise made his way back to the hotel after the disagreement only to be followed shortly after by a slightly inebriated Bellamy who entered his room to attack him with a golf club. Rafa Benitez suggested that Bellamy would not start the next game away to Barcelona. He did. He headed in the opener, celebrated with a cheeky golf swing and set up the winner for – you guessed it – John Arne Riise. In keeping with the theme of his career Bellamy left Liverpool without hitting the heights that were expected from him and was dismissed after just one season in a rather cold manner by Benitez.
The recurring theme in Craig Bellamy’s career is high promise derailed by moments of madness. Having amassed more than £45m in combined transfers and played for some of the biggest clubs in the country, he had everything he needed to become a modern great. Like most mavericks with a tendency for chaos, Bellamy perhaps feels a little misunderstood. While his nature has always been uncompromising and brutally honest, away from football he has turned to philanthropy – investing £1.4m of his own money in a foundation in Sierra Leone. For a player so capable of the sublime though, just four honours – none of which were League titles (one was even a Community Shield, if that counts!) – Bellamy will surely regret that looking back on his career he can count more bust-ups and tribulations than medals and trophies.