The well-travelled Welshman faces his hometown club on Sunday in the League Cup final and has a chance to lift only the second major trophy of his career
By David Lynch
It is rare to hear the term ‘journeyman’ used in the footballing arena without negative connotations. When a player is described in such terms it’s hard not to think of the plodding grafter; a poor finisher and a man whose work is only appreciated by his team-mates, according to the gaffer at least. One look at Craig Bellamy’s career might lead you to believe he is of this ilk but, in truth, the only facet he shares with those players is having numerous former clubs.
It’s been an odd path which has taken the Welshman from a youth contract with Norwich City to eight other sides – one of them twice. Since he left the Canaries, his four-year stint at Newcastle has proved his lengthiest elsewhere but it’s hard not to feel that his nomadic lifestyle is not a reflection of his performances on the pitch. A reputation as an uncontrollable livewire must perhaps take much of the blame.
Admittedly, Bellamy’s actions rightly earned him this image in his early days. On Tyneside, spats with then-national hero Alan Shearer and the well-respected Graeme Souness did him few favours. However, elsewhere he avoided such public bust-ups only to be then dogged by rumours of training ground misbehaviour.
It is perhaps this unfair labelling which has led to Bellamy going through a clear cycle of being criminally underrated and poorly utilised at big clubs, while becoming a key man under lesser expectations at those with more modest ambitions.
|BELLAMY'S CAREER STATS
A result of this sequence is a rather poor collection of medals for a man of his talents, if 'collection' is indeed an apt description. Scottish Cup honours, earned during a half-season loan spell with Celtic, and a Community Shield victory are all the Cardiff-born forward has to show for a career at the top of the game.
Thankfully, in his second stint at Liverpool, Bellamy now has a chance to significantly increase that haul.
There is an element of misfortune regarding Bellamy’s first stint with the Merseysiders. He arrived at a time when the club appeared to be on the up under Rafael Benitez, as the Reds had lifted the Champions League and FA Cup in their first two seasons under the Spaniard.
The Community Shield win was to be the only trophy in Bellamy’s first season but a trip to the 2007 Champions League final, in which he was unfortunate to be an unused substitute, seemed to indicate that the Welshman had finally settled in at a big club.
Benitez’s rant regarding transfer cash following that loss to AC Milan took many by surprise given his initial successes but, though the club’s transfer record was smashed to bring in Fernando Torres that summer, it was facilitated by the reluctant sale of Bellamy.
It is unlikely that the forward wished to leave the club he supported as a boy, or that his manager wished to lose a committed squad member, but it proved the first piece of evidence that all was not right at Liverpool.
It will have been of little consolation to the striker that he became the first casualty to underline the neglectful nature of the Hicks and Gillett era.
Now, after stints with West Ham, Manchester City and Cardiff - ones which, of course, perfectly match the recurring theme of his career – he finds himself back with the Reds under a man he will have idolised during his formative years as a Liverpool supporter.
Kenny Dalglish’s respect for his forward is doubtless reciprocal as he has become the cornerstone of much of Liverpool’s success this season. Having already equalled his goal tally during his single season with the Reds, Bellamy has put himself into first-name-on-the-teamsheet territory.
His performance against Manchester City, the one which earned a League Cup final berth against his hometown club, was widely heralded as the best he had ever produced. It is rare for footballers, especially those who aren’t goalkeepers, to put in a career-defining performance in their 30s, but this summarises the unusual makeup of Bellamy’s time in football.
The highs and lows have been bizarrely repetitive and at times frustrating but nobody could ever question the commitment of the man at the centre of the story. Success under a manager who fully trusts him and at a club he loves could be Bellamy’s just desserts on Sunday and, with an FA Cup quarter-final against Stoke approaching, the icing may not yet have been fully applied to this cake.
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