The new Bellamy
Craig Bellamy's seeing a psychologist, dealing with the loss of his mentor and donating £1.2m to an African football school
The familiar side of Craig Bellamy should be on view for Liverpool away at Wolves on Tuesday night, the relentless forward who at 32 is arguably in the form of his life, the Bellamy who scored the goal against Manchester City last week that took Liverpool back to Wembley for the first time in 16 years.
At the same time as he and his teammates play at Molineux, another side of Bellamy will be aired on television. On ITV4 is a documentary charting Bellamy's perception-challenging charity work in the West African country, Sierra Leone.
Over the past five years Bellamy has sunk £1.2m of his own cash into establishing a not-for-profit football academy in the Kono region and, along with Unicef, a national league in a country where the existing top-flight league has been suspended due to lack of funds.
'I don't do this for people to have a different opinion of me,' Bellamy says. 'That's not too important to me.' But it will display an aspect of Bellamy's personality not always on view.
'The beauty of the country, it's just remarkable,' he says of Sierra Leone. 'What I found even more amazing than that was that everywhere I went everyone knew who I was. We're talking about African villages as you'd imagine it from hundreds of years ago - huts. Then a child walks past in a Steven Gerrard shirt.
'The kids weren't playing with footballs, they had rolled up socks or oranges, but their love for the game is what we had 20, 30 years ago. With computers, cars, very rarely do you see kids on the street here any more. Sierra Leone just brought that back and made me think: "I'd like to do something".
'That I've been able to help people in a worse situation gives me more satisfaction that anything football's been able to give me. Whether I go on to achieve something in football, or not, I can go back to see Sierra Leone and see what I've been able to help.'
Bellamy's involvement in Sierra Leone began in 2007 when he visited a friend from Cardiff working in construction. It started a change in Bellamy but that process has increased rapidly recently.
The death of Gary Speed was the accelerator, an event that still shocks Bellamy daily. He withdrew from the league game against Manchester City the day Speed died and at Anfield they saw at once that their player "needed help".
They arranged for Bellamy to see sports psychologist Steve Peters, a man who works with cyclists Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins among others. For Bellamy, the meeting was transformational, bringing him, he says, fresh and calm introspection.
Immediately the name of Nigel Reo-Coker is put to him as evidence of the opposite but Bellamy is adamant that the spat at Bolton ten days ago was 'comical', that Reo-Coker misunderstood.
“He (Gary) wasn’t just a team-mate, he was my idol in football and was everything I tried to become”
'Reo-Coker, he behaved like an idiot,' Bellamy says. 'I was only messing about. He was saying, "see you down the tunnel" and I was laughing because we go down separate tunnels there anyway. If you watch, I wasn't the aggressor. I was having fun. I wasn't letting it get to me.'
Though it was said dismissively, that 'idiot' comment reveals the new Bellamy to be a work in progress. He knows this. But he was not booked at Bolton. He has not been booked in his last nine games. He mentions that he 'didn't go mad' last Wednesday celebrating the winner against City, his former club. He says that while he had 'so many texts after the City game saying "you showed Mancini," he is not holding a grudge with Roberto Mancini.
Bellamy adds that he has invited former City chief executive Garry Cook to Wembley for the final, as well as the Welshman's knee surgeon. If this shows some of the complexities of relationships within fast-moving football, so does Bellamy when he talks about Speed.
He does so without using Speed's name, referring to 'him'. It is as if 'Gary' or 'Speedo' is too painful. He refers to Speed's death as 'that'. Explaining his altering perspectives, Bellamy says: 'Steve Peters wrote a book called The Chimp Paradox. Since "that" happened, I have been seeing Steve. He has made so much sense.
'Basically we are all chimps. The human side is at the front of our forehead but the chimp is the part that lashes out. But there is another part of the brain that is a computer. When I play, I am completely chimp-orientated. Why can't I watch myself play a day later? Because that's not me. I hate it. I hate watching how I confront the ref. There has always been this Jekyll and Hyde. I have had the chimp fighting me. 'But if you see the top athletes, they are not like that. You know why? Because their computer takes over.
'People say "if you take the anger out of Craig Bellamy, he wouldn't be half the player". It's bollocks. You know what, I'd be a better player. I would be actually thinking more rationally. You just have to go into computer mode where things just come naturally.
'I have had the opportunity to do the Steve Peters thing before but it was something I was more afraid of. I was doing all right.
'It's responsible for my form at the moment. It has had a huge impact. Did you see the celebration after I scored against City? I didn't go mad. I just wanted to work my socks off. And if I win, I win.
'I have been in a lot of semi-finals. But I have been injured in a lot of them. In the play-offs last year, I pulled my hamstring after 15 minutes of the first game . I believe it was because of the tension. I went into those games worrying about things I can't control. I went into those games thinking: "I can't lose, if I lose, I'm a failure". How can you go into a game and do well if you are putting that pressure on yourself? No wonder I pulled my hamstring.
'I got through these [City] semi-finals off the back of it. The simple fact is that I was prepared to lose.'
Bellamy is sitting in an apartment in Liverpool. The Beatles stare out from a cushion. His wife and three children are in Cardiff. There is plenty of space and time to think, about here and now and what comes next. He has long felt obsessed by football but Peters appears to have convinced Bellamy that the obsession is actually just 'commitment', and that measuring a life in medals is unhealthy. 'Ten minutes into the first meeting it registered,' Bellamy says. 'This is not about me becoming a better footballer, I'm not interested in that. If it helps my football, then great. If it helps me after football, that's more important. If it helps me deal with not being able to fall back on football, to enjoy my life, my wife, my kids, stop stressing over things that I don't have...
“I can’t watch myself on TV. I hate it. I hate the way I confront a referee. The top athletes are not like that...”
'I've spent too much of my career believing that I'm only judged on what I win or the impact I've had crazy thought that I have to win something, otherwise my career's a complete failure. It's ridiculous. Will a trophy change me as a person? No. Will it make me a better player? No. So what the hell am I worried about?'
He adds: 'If I'd carried on the way I was going... I was just torturing myself day in, day out. What happens when I finish, thinking everything I've done in football is just a waste of time? 'No-one else is believing this. I am.'
Bellamy is at ease in Liverpool, though. He expresses his gratitude for the club's and fans' reaction to him after Speed died. He is in regular contact with the family and Speed's sons were at the last City match.
Next month Wales play Costa Rica in a memorial game for Speed. Bellamy will appear but he is unsure whether he will continue to play for his country after that. Bellamy likes Speed's successor Chris Coleman but, while Bellamy had many confrontations with Speed's idiosyncratic assistant Raymond Verheijen, he values the 'brilliant but typically Dutch' coach. Coleman is not certain to retain Verheijen. Then there is the Football Association of Wales: Bellamy is unimpressed with their lack of communication and agreed with captain Aaron Ramsey when he spoke out. It is intricate. And there is Speed.
'My biggest concern is being there and him not being there,' Bellamy says. 'That's going to be the hardest bit. Because this game's in his memory, I can concentrate on that. But after that I don't know. It could go one way or the other. 'I do think it's going to be difficult for me to play because of the impact of what happened. There are a lot of people I need to talk to. Wales has meant everything to me. It has been the highlight of my career. But the situation of what happened has had such an impact on me. I still haven't got over it now and I don't think I ever will. 'He wasn't just a team-mate. He was my idol in football. He was everything I tried to become. I spoke to him once a week for the last ten years. But I get to see his kids. I speak to his kids every couple of days which is good because they remind me so much of him.'
Wales-Costa Rica is on Wednesday, February 29. Three days earlier Liverpool play Cardiff City, Bellamy's hometown club and the team he was with last season. It is at Wembley, where Bellamy has never played. He is excited at the thought, the memory of old Wembley finals 'when everyone looked tired'. It all contributes to an intense period of spontaneous reflection.
'It's only in the past three to four months that I've thought this way,' he says. 'It's nice to have a dream, to look forward, but you can't let it take over everything. You have to remember what you have.'
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