Evening Standard

Cardiff City are Craig Bellamy’s ninth team in 17 years and this serial club changer has often given the impression of being out of control. After all, back in 2007 he was dubbed the nutter with the putter for brandishing a golf club at his then Liverpool team-mate John Arne Riise.

That came a couple of years after he was fined £80,000 by Newcastle for calling his manager Graeme Souness a liar in a row over which position he would play.

But all the controversies have not dented his enthusiasm for the game. In fact, when he finishes playing — possibly in two years — he wants to go into management and is already taking inspiration from the biggest names.

“I am reading the biography of Pep Guardiola,” said the former West Ham striker. “I find it really interesting. I’m going to take a big time out and visit people like Marcelo Bielsa at Athletic Bilbao. I have a huge affection for him. There is no one better than Jose Mourinho for how he cherishes his players and their affection for him is unique.

“I want to become one of the greatest managers that has ever lived. Why not? If it doesn’t happen, then I’ve given everything and I’d be proud of whatever I’m able to achieve.”

Bellamy admits some of the incidents that have marred his career were due to his upbringing. Leaving his Cardiff home at 15 to join Norwich made him intensely homesick and he grew up “angry and bitter”.

“Sometimes I would jump into situations without thinking,” says the 33-year-old. “I’d say things which lead you into the wrong situation and trouble. Now, I do not react like that at all.”

But the change in his attitude is not merely a case of an older, more wiser Bellamy. It is, he says, thanks to Steve Peters, who came into his life 16 months ago.

This is the psychiatrist Bellamy went to after the death of his former team-mate Gary Speed and then Wales manager who he has described as an “idol”. And while he refuses to discuss Speed’s death — “it’s something personal to me” — he is happy to talk about Peters, who has helped other sports stars such as multiple Olympic cycling champions Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton.

“He introduced me to a new world about enjoying who I am and looking at the positive parts of life, instead of beating yourself up and putting yourself into situations that you end up regretting. So you have to look back and say, yeah, I’ve had a great career, I’ve worked so hard to get where I have, why obsess about injuries, about certain situations that you have no control over? Why let that destroy your life?”

The Peters effect means Bellamy, who returned to Cardiff last summer, rates this period as the best of his life.

And with Cardiff leading the ­Championship and closing in on a return to the top flight for the first time in 41 years it could get even better.

“By a long way, I’ve enjoyed this ­season more than I’ve ever enjoyed football. It gives me even better satisfaction and I’m able to enjoy it more because of the person I am now. I am happier all round and in my personal life. For a long time I wasn’t and I let that eat away at me more and more.”

But, despite his contentment, Bellamy refuses to rule out moving again. “I don’t look too far ahead. The best thing with this game is it can ­surprise you at any minute. Who can plan anything in this life?”

That attitude is not surprising given that the injury-prone player has had seven operations on his right knee.

And it is with this in mind that he offers a word of caution over Gareth Bale.

His Wales team-mate has been bracketed alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in recent weeks and Bellamy adds his praise.

“He is an exceptional footballer who is really excelling. He’s a natural athlete, an all-round incredible, intelligent footballer who could play in any position. Will he get better? I don’t know. He’s still only 23. Who knows what will happen in the next couple of years.”

And the possible perils the Tottenham winger faces reminds Bellamy of what happened to Ronaldo — the one from Brazil. “He was one of the greatest players I ever witnessed. After 23 he wasn’t the Ronaldo that was at Barcelona due to injuries. So with regards to Bale, it’s too far to look into the future and say how good he can become. If he stays fit then what he’s doing now will be more than enough to make him one of the best players of his decade.”

With that, Bellamy becomes almost paternal, adding: “He’s a good lad from a really good family. His parents have done an incredible job with him, how well they’ve brought him up.”

The striker knows what such family support can mean, having grown up in a part of Cardiff he describes “as a graveyard for ambition”.

“I had a very good upbringing, which I’m eternally grateful for. As a young kid I have seen others who were as talented as me deteriorate because they didn’t have that support network around them. I remember being 14 and a couple of mates a year older than me going to the job centre, watching them sign on and then how much they deteriorated over the years.”

All this made him determined to help as many kids as possible to have a future. And his chosen project means so much to him he is happy to provide a rare interview and explain why he set up a foundation in Sierra Leone to provide elite football and academic education.

It came about when he visited the country in 2007 at the invitation of some friends and was shocked by the poverty. “Nothing can prepare you for it. Barely a house to live in, you might get one meal a day if you’re lucky.”

But, despite this, there was a passion for football which Bellamy wanted to harness. “Very talented kids were playing everywhere, often with rolled up socks as a ball,” he says.

In six years, he has invested £1.2million in the project and for those people who think this is an unlikely move from a man who has often seen the red mist descend, Bellamy paints himself as a man with a missed vocation. “I’d loved to have been involved with social work,” he says. “I always had in the back of mind to do my own charity.

“You see me at work. You don’t see me 99 per cent of the way I live my life which is completely private. There’s a real human side to me that’s very compassionate, open and relaxed and also very kind. But I will not take fools lightly. You have to be relentless at this game. Someone else is always looking to take your place.”

The Craig Bellamy Foundation runs Sierra Leone’s only national youth football league, with 2,400 boys and girls, as well as a football academy. Now in its fourth year, CBF is inviting you to get involved by supporting one of the 60 clubs in its unique league. Go to to get started.


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