This morning, as I blearily contemplated cobbling together these words to mark the retirement of Craig Bellamy, I read an interaction between two gents I respect on Twitter. Both men were pretty much in agreement that they hadn't ever rated Bellamy, especially as a man, and they were more than a tad irked by the fawning media coverage of his romance with Liverpool Football Club. I'm afraid, as I read through the chat, I wasn't in accord. Life has unsparingly taught me the perils of subscribing to the modern cult of remote analysis of a person's character. Over the last twenty years, 'best' friends have proven treacherous and comparative strangers have revealed tremendously kind hearts. The object lesson has been to judge folk only on their actions.
Irrespective of the myriad of examples of poor behaviour or questionable attitude (some of which occurred during his Anfield days - hello, 'Ginge' Riise) many of us have remained confirmed fans of the Welshman's onfield actions. He cared, you see. Sometimes his body defied him during his Liverpool days, but he cared. Really, whether deep down that passion came from a deep-rooted love of the club or a visceral manifestation of his own pride, I cared not a jot. When he wore the Red, he tended to give his all and during his second spell, when the atmosphere around the club was often hellish, Bellamy showed the kind of passion and fight that connects with us fans on a primal level. Perhaps that says more about the caveman tendencies of your scribbler, but again, actions resonate.
After a long and impressive career which began back in 1996 with Norwich, Bellamy has chosen to retire at the age of 34. A devoted trainer, he looks the sort who could play for another ten years but the ravages of injury have taken their toll and the bellicose forward has chosen to bow out of the professional game. It is a cruel twist of fate that he must finish now, as his beloved home-town club of Cardiff are relegated back to the Championship, a division they had won at the end of the previous campaign, due in no small measure to the sterling efforts of Bellamy.
Over two spells with Liverpool, Bellamy scored 18 goals in 74 appearances, the two most celebrated of which came some five years apart in the Champions League and Carling Cup semi finals, when he was the difference against Barcelona and Manchester City, respectively. In many ways, the fleet-footed wide man was typical of the kind of compromised purchase Rafa Benitez was forced to make due to the lack of an Abramovic-style sugar daddy, but that solitary campaign ended with the Welshman appearing 41 times and scoring nine goals as Liverpool marched to the final of the Champions League in Athens.
When Kenny Dalglish brought Bellamy back to Anfield for the ill-starred 2011/'12 season, most fans were delighted. He had proven to be an effective and exciting attacker at Manchester City and Cardiff in the two previous campaigns and his much vaunted affection for the club was a popular source of newspaper copy. That Kenny Dalglish was a genuine hero of his and that he was a boyhood admirer of the club are not really open to debate, unless one wants to imply Bellamy is a liar. His words are generally measured, even in anger, and his delight in being part of the tradition of Liverpool Football Club always seemed thoroughly genuine to these ears.
Always a man to give of his best, Bellamy had extra motivation, following the passing of his friend Gary Speed, to honour his memory in the quarter final of the victorious 2012 Carling Cup run. His tears before the kick off and dynamism on the park afterwards were heartbreaking and emotive in the extreme but Bellamy was like a super-charged version of himself on the night and his performance in the 2-0 win over Chelsea, when he set up both goals, remains my favourite moment of his Liverpool career, narrowly edging out the horrendously hilarious tale of his feral golf club attack on the hapless Jon Arne Riise. The two moments encapsulate the player and the man -- self-admittedly flawed but brimming with passion, capable of utter brilliance and yet prone to reprehensible madness.
As he looks towards retirement, Bellamy will no doubt be a little anxious about life after playing. He has been open about the benefit that he has gleaned from working with Dr. Steve Peters in the latter years of his career and he will need to guard against the gathering gloom that can affect high-level athletes in retirement. He is unequivocal about the appropriateness of his decision, however, and seems to have a definite plan for the future.
"I could go to the Major Soccer League across the Atlantic," he insists. "I’ve had offers from clubs in England. But it’s not just the playing and training, it’s the maintenance work I have to do on my body in order to be able to play. The extra hour of strengthening work I have to do after training, that type of thing. If I’m honest, I’ve had a few sleepless nights over the last three to four months. How am I going to handle it?
"I’ve not completely prepared myself for not playing. Not waking up in pain at the moment is nice, I can enjoy it. When the season starts, it could be a different matter. But I do have lots of business activities to keep me busy and I’m taking my full coaching badges. I’ve got A, B and C, I just need to do the Pro-Licence which will prepare me properly for management. I plan to visit lots of football clubs, home and abroad, look at training in different sports, to broaden my knowledge. Then, when the management opportunity comes, I will be as fully prepared as possible."
As we contemplate the notion of a trim, well turned-out Bellamy stalking the touchlines of the future, we no doubt all hope he will be more Dalglish than DiCanio but the reality is, that with Bellamy, we cannot be sure. I, for one, will always retain a fondness for this most antagonistic, truculent and often sublime of footballers because when he donned the Liverbird I felt it mattered to him and, as a passionate fan of Liverpool Football Club, that'll do for me.