Craig Bellamy – Cymru fuel to the fire

Former striker Craig Bellamy will lead Cymru into a new era following his appointment as head coach of the men’s national team on Tuesday. 

A proven goalscorer in the English Premier League, Bellamy enjoyed an illustrious playing career as he represented a number of high-profile clubs including Liverpool, West Ham United, Manchester City and Newcastle United amongst others in almost 550 club games.

A passionate and committed Cymru international, Bellamy wore his heart on his sleeve throughout his 78 appearances for the national team, scoring 19 goals which included a famous winner against Italy in Cardiff back in 2002.

Born in the Welsh capital, Bellamy also played for his home town club and achieved a personal dream as he helped the side achieve promotion to the Premier League in 2013. He would call time on his playing career the following year having played and scored for Cardiff City in the top-flight as injuries took their toll.

It would mark the end of one chapter but the start of another as he took the first steps in his coaching career, a decision that has now presented him with the opportunity to steer this talented Cymru generation into the next campaign.

Bellamy’s professional playing career began at Norwich City after making the move from Bristol Rovers to emerge through the youth ranks at the club. His five seasons at Carrow Road persuaded Coventry City to spend a club-record fee to prove himself in the Premier League in the summer of 2000.

A switch to Newcastle United the following year offered the opportunity to play and score in the UEFA Champions League, while his first taste of silverware was delivered in the shape of the Scottish Cup while on-loan at Celtic in 2004/05. 

Bellamy played with a fire inside him and was outspoken both on and off the pitch from an early age. His career was not without controversy as it continued with moves to Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United, Manchester City and two spells at both Liverpool and Cardiff City.

Playing under Mark Hughes at Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City as well as for Cymru brought the best out of him, but injury problems persisted and added to his frustration. Despite the setbacks, Bellamy’s desire for the game continued to burn, and it was fitting that his only league title would be achieved with Cardiff City in 2012/13.

Bellamy was fast-tracked through the Cymru international setup, making his U21 debut at the age of 16 and progressing into Bobby Gould’s senior squad two years later. He would make his debut against Jamaica in March 1998 before scoring his first senior goal against Malta in June.

Bellamy established himself in the squad and would become a key player under Mark Hughes, but would miss the EURO 2004 play-off matches against Russia, which Cymru narrowly lost, through injury. 

His passion and status in the side inevitably saw in Bellamy wear the captains armband under John Toshack, but those difficult years for the national team proved frustrating after coming so close to success under Hughes as a new generation were brought through the ranks ahead of their time.

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The appointment of Gary Speed in 2010, a former team-mate of Bellamy’s at Newcastle United, offered a new hope and belief. However, the devastation of Speed’s untimely death less than a year later had a profound effect on Bellamy, but he continued under Chris Coleman until announcing his international retirement in October 2013.

Named PFA Young Player of the Year in 2001/02, Bellamy also claimed the League Cup and Community Shield with Liverpool in addition to his runners-up medals in both the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League.

An appearance at a major finals with Cymru would elude him, but he now has the opportunity to make amends in the same way that Chris Coleman and Rob Page did following their own playing careers by leading Cymru to a major tournament.

Bellamy made his first steps into coaching at Cardiff City working with the academy players in addition to the younger Cymru teams, but was reunited with his former Manchester City team-mate Vincent Kompany when he took charge of Belgian side Anderlecht in 2019 to run the U21 team, and linked-up with Kompany again at Burnley in the summer of 2022 as he became a senior member of his coaching staff. Like Mark Hughes in 1999, the Cymru job will be Bellamy’s first position as head coach.

Having played under Gould, Hughes, Toshack, Speed and Coleman during his 15-year international career, Bellamy has experienced a wide-range of highs and lows in the red shirt. Although it has been a decade since his retirement, he will be well-aware of the talented young players that are currently emerging into the senior side in the same way that he did as a teenager, and he will understand the level of expectation that comes from recent success.

The opportunity to deliver for Cymru will no doubt fuel the fire that has defined Bellamy’s character throughout his career, and the potential for what could be achieved is a challenge that he will no doubt embrace.


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