Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Bellamy leaves for Cardiff

And so one of the most dramatic careers of a recent Manchester City player has blown out like a fuse. Craig Bellamy may only be on loan to Cardiff City but the circumstances under which he plays for MCFC in 2011/12 are remote to say the least. At the very least, it would require the replacement of Roberto Mancini as boss by someone more amenable to Bellamy. And it would also require Bellamy's conduct not to have wholly alienated Garry Cook, Brian Marwood, Khaldoon al-Mubarak and even Sheikh Mansour. He's finished.

It could only have ended this way, really. Bellamy's career has been defined by moments of acrimony and discord, and so it makes sense for him to be thrown out of the club by a storm largely of his own making. His limited use in pre-season hinted at problems, and when Mancini said he wasn't in the squad for the FC Timişoara games it was clear he was out. His critical interview, Mancini excluding him from the EPL squad and then banning him from training were just the final steps in the dance.

It is a shame to see him go, but it has been inevitable for a while. In fact, the forces that drew him to City made his departure in these new circumstances likely. Because if there is one fact that you must learn about Bellamy, one fact that explains his eighteen month epic at MCFC, it is this: he has a relationship with and loyalty to Mark Hughes, Mark Bowen et al which is unlikely almost every other such relationship in English football. (This, and not the drop in division, is why his move to Cardiff City is so surprising.) I was not worried about his conduct when he signed for City, not because I thought he was misunderstood, but because I recognised the claim that he had caused problems at every team he'd ever played for was untrue. Rather, he had caused problems at every team - other than those managed by Marks Hughes and Bowen. As such, I was fairly confident he would realise the extent of his talent at City, proving a crucial addition on and off the pitch.

And he was. It is easy to forget just how bad a mess we were in that Christmas of 2008. On 20 December we were on 18 points after 17 games, and it was a surprise that Hughes was even allowed to stay to spend ADUG money in January. Bellamy joined along with Wayne Bridge, Nigel de Jong and Shay Given as Hughes added experience and muscle to a team that was weak, sloppy and divided. He had an instant impact. He scored on his debut, the second goal in our 2-1 home win over Newcastle United. He then scored the only goal in our next home game, a 1-0 win over Middlesbrough. Those wins might look trivial now but they were crucial in dragging us towards mid-table. In February he scored a goal in the 1-1 at Anfield (bizarrely credited against Álvaro Arbeloa) before scoring both goals as we beat F.C. København in the UEFA Cup last 32 second left at Eastlands. He won Player of the Month, before injury curtailed his season. Only four credited goals - two in the league - but important in dragging the team to where it ought to have been. A big part of this was his off the pitch role. As someone so wholly loyal to the management, he was not just Hughes' eyes and ears in the dressing room but his mouth as well - infamously castigating Elano and Robinho after their pathetic no-show at Fratton Park.

But no-one expected him to play much of a role the following season. We signed Carlos Tévez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz that summer. But Bellamy started the season at another old haunt - Ewood Park - and didn't let go. On the left of Hughes' counter-attacking 4-2-4 (the tactical switch that started the decline of Stephen Ireland) he kept Robinho out of the side and was crucial to the team: harrying opposition full-backs, breaking at pace, cutting in from the flank to score with his right. That was how he scored his first of the season, putting us 2-1 ahead in that famous 4-2 defeat of Arsenal. The next week was his best performance in blue, in the infamous 4-3 defeat to United. He scored two thrilling equalisers, the first arrowed into the far top corner, the second in the 90th minute, tearing past Rio Ferdinand and fooling Ben Foster. It was the greatest individual performance from a City player in an Old Trafford derby I can remember. It won him Player of the Month for September. He scored the equaliser cutting in from the left at Villa Park in October and then again in that 3-3 with Burnley. In that confident autumn he was our best player and our talisman: the man who, despite not being as talented as his teammates, was dragging them all up to their potential levels. If we were going to make the Champions League last year, it would have been thanks to the leadership of Bellamy and Carlos Tévez.

But all this excellence, this leadership and this bravery was predicated on his personal loyalty to Mark Hughes. And when Hughes was sacked in December everything collapsed. There were rumours of a protest and of a transfer request. He continued to play, but there was always a sense that he wasn't the same player any more. There were a few decent performances but that fire that made him such a compelling player had gone out. He reminded us of his potential with two counter-attacking goals at Stamford Bridge. But even his celebrations looked wistful. There were two more goals that season but just as prominent were dark rumours of discord with Mancini. Arguing over training, whispers of sedition in the tunnel against Everton, and then the infamous high five with Harry Redknapp. It was a bad way for his City career to end, particularly ten minutes after he bottled a tackle with Younes Kaboul, allowing Peter Crouch to score.

Ultimately, everything that made him so good under Mark Hughes made him problematic under Mancini: his intense loyalty to Hughes and Bowen, his fiery personal disagreements, his brazen straight-talking. And that was the problem. He was, always, a Mark Hughes man, a 2009 man. A new decade, a new manager and he just didn't fit in the same way any more. His departure was inevitable and probably necessary. But I am so grateful for what he did, for where he found us and where he left us, and for this he will always be important to us.

Craig Bellamy. MCFC 2009-10. 41 starts, 15 goal.


wizzballs said...

and a great big yah-boo sucks to Tottenham.

redknapp can't stop talking about us.

Pleat was absolutely fuming on r5 tonight.

Well played City.

Football 足球 The language of the beautiful game said...

The tragedy for me is that almost all City fans I've heard or spoken to haven't batted an eyelid at Stephen Ireland leaving the club.

Good point about the formation change though and how this was partly Ireland's death knell. Apart from Silva we don't really have a midfielder who can play centrally or just behind the strikers and play cute/intricate passes - so we may still struggle for creativity when Silva is not in the team or out of form. I only hope that Milner displaces Barry in our midfield from now on. Why on earth do so many City fans seem to think that Barry will suddenly become a top 4 player at the age of 30 let alone a title contending one!? He makes Super Kevin Horlock and Jamie Pollock look like "sh!t off a stick" when trying to turn or drive forward, and he must have the biggest arse in football (Caicedo excepted!)!

Anonymous said...


fulafalonga said...

I wish Mancini could have got his head around how to treat Bellamy because I think Bellamy is a big loss. Not necessarily as a starter every game, but he would have been invaluable as a sub in the last 15-20 minutes of a game. That blinding speed and tenacity could have been devastating in tight matches against tiring fullbacks. Is there a better counter attacker in the league? Would it have been so bad to have given him his own training regime so the knees held up. I have to admit I wasn't too fussed on Bellamy when he came, with that reputation, but have warmed to him to the point where I am genuinely sad to see him go (even if I always felt it was going to end badly).

Anonymous said...

Perfectly summed up.

Onwards and Upwards