Craig Bellamy: Former Wales captain out to prove doubters wrong as he succeeds Rob Page as national team manager

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Craig Bellamy is determined to banish the general perception of him as he steps into his first senior management role with Wales.

Bellamy courted controversy on and off the pitch during a colourful playing career that saw him win 78 Wales caps between 1998 and 2013.

The former Wales captain seemed to get into as many scrapes as he scored Premier League goals for Liverpool, Manchester City and Newcastle.

But, just days away from his 45th birthday, Bellamy believes coaching experience at Anderlecht and Burnley has prepared him for a four-year Wales deal with the clear ambition of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup and Euro 2028.

“I understand the perception of me,” Bellamy said when being unveiled to the media as Rob Page’s successor.

Bellamy has signed a four-year Wales deal
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Bellamy has signed a four-year Wales deal

“Lack of experience and temperament were thrown at me in the past. It will be important to dismiss those concerns in three or four years’ time.

“I put myself under more scrutiny that anyone. I am so determined to be the best human being I can be.

“That drives me – it’s so important to be the best I can be. I’m not the finished article and if I’ve made mistakes I have apologised and learned from them. I want to impact people’s lives in a positive way.”

Bellamy cut his coaching teeth at the Cardiff academy before joining Vincent Kompany, first in Belgium and then at Burnley.

‘I just couldn’t turn it down’

Two eventful campaigns at Turf Moor saw the Clarets romp to the Championship title with 101 points and then suffer relegation from the Premier League.

Burnley picked up only five wins and 24 points last season and Kompany headed to Bayern Munich in May.

Bellamy stayed at Burnley as interim manager and declined the opportunity to assist new boss Scott Parker as Wales came calling.

“The last three or four months I was happy, but it became clear to me that I needed more,” said Bellamy, who narrowly missed out on the Wales job when Ryan Giggs was appointed in 2018.

“I needed to look for a No 1 spot for my progression. I was working with Vincent in that period and then he went to Bayern.

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Bellamy had been working under Vincent Kompany at Burnley

“I was still looking at club positions, but Wales has always been very important to me.

“I was born here and to lead your national team is rare, but I’m grateful to get it as a first opportunity.

“Mark Hughes and Gary Speed (former Wales managers) came to mind and it became clear to me that if this opportunity came I wanted it.

“The more I got into the process the more excited I became.”

Bellamy never played at a major international tournament and admitted to being envious while watching Wales at Euro 2016, Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup.

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We take a look back at Craig Bellamy’s best goals from the Welshman’s time in the Premier League as a player, after being announced as head coach of his country

His reign will start with a Nations League tie at home to Euro 2024 quarter-finalists Turkey on September 6, opponents he says he has already watched eight times over the past week.

“Being a fan during this period has been great. It has been huge and exciting,” said Bellamy.

“The path has been set for a number of years and that is what we expect now. The FAW system is geared to qualify and to success.

“I have to keep improving the team. We had a knock back in not being involved in these Euros, but hopefully we can go to another World Cup and then a Euros after that. That’s a real motivation.

“I have key principles – hard work, discipline to your craft, respect and being willing to learn.

“You have to be open minded to everyone. Respect to the shirt – can you leave it in a better position than you found it?

“We have to keep that mentality going with that type of attitude. I like pressing and front-foot football.

“The team comes first and we will play with high intensity and become hard to break down.”

Bellamy’s career in focus

A nomadic club career

In a 17-year senior playing career Bellamy played for nine different clubs, two of them in two different spells. After coming through the ranks at Norwich, Bellamy instantly regretted joining Coventry in a £6.5million move and moved to Newcastle a year later in 2001. A productive spell alongside Alan Shearer came to an end after Graeme Souness replaced Sir Bobby Robson as manager, and Bellamy joined Celtic on loan before his former Wales boss Mark Hughes signed him for Blackburn. A year later he joined Liverpool, reaching the Champions League final, but left after one season for West Ham. Eighteen months later, Hughes took him to Manchester City, but he lost his place after two seasons and went to Cardiff on loan before a surprise return to Liverpool, winning the League Cup in 2012. Bellamy spent one year at Anfield but then returned to Cardiff, helping the Welsh club earn promotion to the Premier League.

Wales captain

An 18-year-old Bellamy made his international debut for Wales in March 1998, and three months later scored his first goal in a 3-0 win over Malta. Under Hughes, Wales reached the play-offs in the Euro 2004 qualifiers, but injury ruled out Bellamy as the Dragons lost to Russia. Bellamy missed the start of John Toshack’s reign through injury but was made captain in October 2006 in the absence of Ryan Giggs. He became vice-captain on Giggs’ return a month later but it was only a temporary demotion before Giggs retired the following June – although injuries continued to disrupt Bellamy’s international career. He postponed his planned international retirement when Gary Speed took the job in December 2010, but stepped down as captain to focus on his fitness. He announced his international retirement in October 2013 after Wales missed out on a place at the 2014 World Cup.

Controversies

When Robson signed Bellamy for Newcastle, he described the forward as “a great player wrapped around an unusual and volatile character”. Though he thrived on the pitch, Bellamy’s time at Newcastle was marked by a police caution for common assault, a £750 fine for using foul and abusive language outside a Cardiff nightclub, and a public altercation with coach John Carver in Mallorca. When at Liverpool, having appeared in court in 2006 and been found not guilty over the alleged assault of two women in Cardiff, Bellamy had an altercation with team-mate John Arne Riise, striking him with a golf club – leading to headlines calling him “the nutter with the putter”.

Coaching career

After his playing career, Bellamy worked as an academy coach at Cardiff initially on a voluntary basis before being appointed player development manager. He pulled out of a move to become Oxford boss after the club was taken over, then stepped down at Cardiff to defend himself against claims of bullying – something he denied and was not subject to formal disciplinary action for but later apologised if he “inadvertently offended anyone”. His former team-mate Vincent Kompany then came calling in June 2019. Bellamy served as Kompany’s assistant at Anderlecht for two years, before stepping down in September 2021, citing mental health issues. When Kompany joined Burnley in July 2022, Bellamy returned to his staff, remaining at Turf Moor when the Belgian joined Bayern Munich this summer.

‘Bellamy will be expected to qualify for World Cup’

Sky Sports News’ Geraint Hughes:

“It was a fairly extensive and exhaustive search. The FAW said they would look beyond Welsh coaches, and look at the other Home Nations and abroad.

“We know they spoke to a number of candidates. Osian Roberts, who was previously an assistant under Chris Coleman and is now at Como in Italy, was spoken to but said it wasn’t the right time.

Rob Page led Wales to their first World Cup for 64 years in 2022
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Rob Page was sacked this summer after missing out on Euro 2024

Thierry Henry was spoken to, as was Willy Sagnol, the Georgia manager. But it was always about the right person for the role and given there is a great link between the Welsh team, the Welsh people and the Welsh language, having a Welsh person there is something that fits.

“With Bellamy, you’d have to go far to find someone as passionate about his country as he is. He won’t have a huge amount of time because the Nations League is up shortly – Bellamy’s first match will be against Turkey in Cardiff on September 6.

“After that is qualification for the World Cup. Wales want and expect to be there, and missing out on the Euros is one of the reasons Rob Page lost his job.”

Bellamy will hold no fear promoting young talent

Bellamy won 78 Wales caps between 1998 and 2013
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Bellamy won 78 Wales caps between 1998 and 2013

Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds:

“Bellamy almost got the job in 2018, narrowly losing out to Giggs. Six years on, the FAW feels the 44-year-old is better equipped to do the job given his time on the touchline alongside Kompany.

“There were suggestions that he could remain there as Scott Parker’s assistant at Burnley but Bellamy’s passion for Wales – he proudly wears a tattoo tribute to Owain Glyndwr, the last native-born Welshman to claim the title Prince of Wales – meant he was never going to turn his country down.

“As a player, he was a firebrand who courted controversy on and off the field as much as he left defenders trailing with his blistering speed.

Bellamy has worked as a pundit for Sky Sports
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Bellamy has worked as a pundit for Sky Sports

“He has mellowed with age, do not be surprised to see Bellamy cut a colourful figure on touchlines or in press conferences. What can not be disputed is that Bellamy is a student of the game – even as a young man he would head off to the continent to analyse how teams played.

The FAW has stressed the ambition is to “consistently qualify” for major tournaments after reaching Euro 2016, Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup. Bellamy’s deal will take him through qualifying periods for the 2026 World Cup and Euro 2028, which will be co-hosted by Wales.

“Despite failure to reach Euro 2024, there is no shortage of talent – Brennan Johnson, Daniel James, David Brooks, Ethan Ampadu, Harry Wilson, Jordan James and Neco Williams.

“Teenagers Charlie Crew and Lewis Koumas, already capped at senior level, will develop. Bellamy cut his coaching teeth in the Cardiff academy and will hold no fear promoting young talent into his Wales squad.”

Earnshaw: Bellamy has changed since playing days

Wales' Robert Earnshaw and Craig Bellamy (right) during the launch of the new Kappa kit at Carden Park Hotel, near Wrexham. Wales will wear the new kit when playing their friendly international against Norway in Oslo on Thursday and Canada at Wrexham on Sunday.
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Robert Earnshaw played alongside Craig Bellamy for Wales

Robert Earnshaw, the former Wales striker who played alongside Bellamy for his country, told Sky Sports News: “It’s an excellent appointment.

“When I was thinking, ‘who could take Wales forward?’ He was one of the first names I thought about. He’s got a very sharp mind, a great passion for the game and they’ve made the right choice.”

Earnshaw also dismissed fears over Bellamy’s lack of experience, saying: “It’s a step up, but I’ve seen it. Mark Hughes, who gave me my debut, went on to do great things with Wales and other clubs. It was his first job.

“Gary Speed’s first big role was with Wales. This is in the same category. He’s waited for an opportunity like this. He’s ready for it.”

He’s [Bellamy] changed a little bit and tweaked how he thinks and talks, as you have to as a manager. He’s going to bring that energy.

Former Wales international Robert Earnshaw on SSN

Bellamy was renowned for his fiery personality as a player, but Earnshaw says his former international team-mate has mellowed since moving into coaching, explaining: “In the dressing room, he’s very much like you see. He’s very passionate. He tells it as it is.

“He’s changed a little bit and tweaked how he thinks and talks, as you have to as a manager. He’s going to bring that energy. There’s never going to be a dull moment with Craig.

“But he’s an excellent coach. I got to go to Anderlecht a few years ago and see him close hand. He had a young Jeremy Doku at the time.

“The way he spoke with the players and detail he gave them, I came away impressed. He’s slightly different to the player Craig Bellamy.”

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