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Wales Gamble, but Bellers may Chime with the Times

By Graham Thomas

In his brutally frank autobiography, “Goodfella”, written a decade ago towards the end of his playing career, Craig Bellamy gives a blunt account of his first impressions when he initially broke into the Wales football national squad.

“When I first started playing for Wales, it often felt as if I had stumbled into a black comedy,” says the newly appointed Wales manager.

“I was incredibly proud to be involved with the national team but when I joined up with the squad for the first time before a friendly against Jamaica at Ninian Park, I spent most of the days leading up to it in a state of wide-eyed bemusement.”

Bellamy – who was appointed by the FAW on Tuesday in succession to the sacked Rob Page – goes on to detail the weird Sunday pub team atmosphere that existed under the then boss, one Bobby Gould.

There was the training ground brawl between Gould and a reluctant John Hartson, the banishment of Robbie Savage over a backfired joke, and the chaotic team meetings.

Bellamy has always demanded high standards – of clubs, teammates and himself – and you can’t imagine he would list excuses after a 0-0 draw with Gibraltar, as Page did last month shortly before he was fired.

He may not have swished an eight-iron across their backsides – those days are long behind him – but you can imagine his anger would have been detectable in a way that Page’s was not.

Will his trademark passion, heart-on-his-sleeve emotional reactions, and searing home truths be enough to take Wales to the 2026 World Cup?

Not unless he can also be a shrewd man-manager, as Page was in coaxing the best out of Gareth Bale and others on the qualification road to the 2022 tournament.

But he will also need to show tactical flexibility and variation that seemed out of reach for Page on the ultimately doomed campaign to reach Euro 2024.

Bellamy was certainly a fiery character as a player and there are those who will always define him by various headstrong decisions, such as the infamous wielding of that golf club against his Liverpool teammate John Arne Riise.

For them, the FAW should be looking to appoint a childminder to stand alongside their 44-year-old new manager, rather than an assistant.

But Bellamy’s keen interest in coaching was obvious long before he hung up his boots, whilst his appearances as a TV pundit always revealed a depth of knowledge and appreciation for different playing styles and their places in the development of the game.

As for that short fuse, it was hard to detect in the relative shadows of his assistant role to Vincent Kompany at first Anderlecht and then Burnley.

It will certainly be tested more in an unfamiliar head coach role in a much higher profile job, but his former Wales teammate Robert Earnshaw believes Bellamy has long ago matured into management material.

 “He’s changed a little bit and tweaked how he thinks and talks, as you have to as a manager,” says Earnshaw.

“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 got to see him at 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.”

In fact, Earnshaw thinks not only that Bellamy is a good choice to succeed Page, but that he is the best choice.

“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.”

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