Over the last ten years, few Liverpool players have been as exciting to watch as Craig Bellamy. Pace, trickery, power, technique and everybody else's share of aggression all packed into five feet, nine inches of ceaseless on-pitch griping, chest-prodding and merciless goading. With Bellamy, nobody was safe. Opposition hard men and referees were relentlessly put in their place but similarly, team-mates were often subjected to the full expression of the Welshman's rage. Bellers was box-office gold; brilliant and barmy.
The new, comparatively tranquil Bellamy is virtually unrecognisable from the snarling maniac that once terrorised the Premier league. Life and its attendant responsibilities and tragedies have given the man perspective and balance. Today, he is a wonderful interview subject; thoughtful, intelligent, but with an urgent passion never far from the surface. You still would not knowingly annoy this apparently zen individual. There remains something about him; a residual air of threat or menace that his previously aggressive demanour has established in perpetuity.
The dramatic reduction in his volatility has been attributed to the clearly successful work he's done with Liverpool's consultant psychologist, Dr. Steve Peters. Indeed, it was reportedly through the connection with Bellamy that Liverpool's current squad are in the highly enviable position of being able to tackle their own irksome inner chimp. An array of golden accolades can attest to the magnificent work Peters has done to date in the field of sports psychology, but Heaven knows he had his work cut out for him with Craig Bellamy.
In his 'autobiography,' written and adapted by The Mirror's Oliver Holt, Bellamy has revealed some salacious and massively entertaining details about the more colourful episodes of his dramatic career to date. That paper have printed some particularly riveting extracts which chronicle, in a first-person-narrative style, the Welshman's infamous conflicts with John Arne Riise and BBC stuffed shirt, Alan Shearer, amongst many others.
Most Liverpool fans will be in possession of at least a sketchy knowledge of what happened between Bellamy and Riise on that night in 2007. Liverpool, under Rafael Benitez, were marching towards a second Champions League final in three years and Bellamy was a vibrant contributor to a side that featured Riise at left-back.
Benitez had taken the decision to bring the team to the Algarve to prepare for their round-of sixteen away leg against Barcelona. The notoriously cautious and precise Spaniard allowed his charges one night to have a few beers and a meal. In the finest traditions of the professional footballer at play, carnage ensued.
Bellamy and his room-mate Steve Finnan were sitting with Sami Hyypia and Riise when Bellamy decided to insist that the Norwegian must sing. Riise, affectionately known as Ginge, declined several times, but Bellamy was gaining added belligerence from his alcohol and pressed too far. Riise exploded and shouted his defiance at the striker in front of the assembled company. He then left early and returned to the team hotel. A less balanced man than he is now, Bellamy was driven quietly mad by what he perceived as disrespect.
Finnan tried manfully to assuage his friend's growing rage but it was to no avail. Something was going to go down. Bellamy returned purposefully to the hotel, determined to confront Riise and have it out with "that ginger f*****g p****." The rooms Liverpool had booked had a shared lounge, in which the players' golf clubs just happened to be stored. Bellamy approached his bag and pulled out an eight iron. Club selection, after all, is a vital when attempting a tricky shot! Bellamy takes it up;
The tale is both terrifying and hilarious and Bellamy now has the grace to admit that what he did was "pathetic" and an example of "stupidity of the highest level." Just recalling it now, he says, makes him "cringe." The man was not in control and fuelling that kind of temperamental personality with booze is unlikely to end well.
In the end, however, the Welshman escaped relatively unscathed in the short-term, thanks to the unruly behaviour of his team-mates. After the golf club confrontation, Bellamy retired, his rage sated. The rest of the squad poured in at that point, boisterously drunk, and proceeded to destroy the lounge. Meanwhile, mild-mannered Jerzy Dudek, hero of Istanbul, was in a police cell with a facial scar, having become embroiled in a scuffle when he refused to leave the bar!
Bellamy amusingly recounts the utterly incongruous picture of Rafa Benitez, "the most ordered, controlling man [he] knew," sitting, bemused amidst the chaos of that lounge and contemplating the result of his leniency. Suffice it to say that future squads would not have as much leeway.
A couple of days later, in the Camp Nou, the legend gained even more fame as, having earlier equalised and celebrated with a golf swing, Bellamy then laid a ball off to Riise who fired home to ensure progression to the final in Athens. You could try, but you genuinely could't make that up.