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Bellamy Interview

First Appeared in the Eastern Daily Press 11.08.200

NB: with a week of this article appearing, Bellamy had left Norwich and joined Premiership Coventry City.

Smiling assassin in for the kill

They all noticed - he's got that grin on his face . ..

Numerous supporters commented on it when the match pictures from City's pre-season friendly at Dereham Town appeared in the following morning's EDP.

Craig Bellamy, it was noted, appeared to be grinning in our photographs, as he hurdled the Dereham goalkeeper and then 
slotted home the first of his three goals that night.

It was as if this extravagantly talented 21-year-old was employing literally the age-old mantra about playing with a smile on one's face.

And, after spending eight months on the sidelines last season with appalling knee ligament damage, that's precisely what he intends to do this time around. Bellamy is set on making up for lost time - and he's loving every minute of it.

"It is a big year for me but I've just got to get my head down, work hard and enjoy it," the young Welsh international said. "Some footballers don't do that, but how could you not enjoy playing the best game in the world?"

However it's also true that not too many people - in Division One at least - play it quite as well as he does. Rated at 6million by the Canaries, Bellamy is only too aware that most of the managers in the Premiership will be keeping a close eye on everything he does this season. Every goal he scores, every piece of magic he produces to set-up a goal for Iwan Roberts or Gaetano Giallanza, will merely bring closer the date he is eventually sold.

For only the most stubbornly optimistic Norwich fan will kid himself that the club's star striker will be here for too much longer; the realists amongst the Carrow Road faithful will simply enjoy him while he's here, and hope that he stays long enough to - just maybe - leave the Canaries in a position to challenge for the play-offs.

"As long as I'm doing well and getting recognition that will happen but it's nothing to do with me," he insisted. "The only way I can get recognition is by playing well for Norwich. I want to do well - and by me doing so Norwich can become a better team - but obviously it's nothing to do with me."

That's as maybe, but Bellamy also admitted that he chose the Canaries over bigger clubs one decade ago because he believed he could rise through the ranks quickly here and then get transferred to a Premiership heavyweight. "That was the whole reason I came here at 11 years of age - to get spotted by a bigger club," he told me. "The coaching was right here, they can bring you on. At the time they were in the Premiership and there wasn't a better club to join. Hopefully now I can help the club but if I go for a certain amount of money that's down to the club, not me."

However, players have been known to remain at clubs for longer than expected because of their rapport with the manager and, to that end, Canaries supporters will be thrilled to hear that Bellamy rates Bryan Hamilton higher than any of his previous Carrow Road bosses.

"I think he's brilliant," said the forward. "Certain players have certain views and you'll never get everyone happy but for me, I've worked with one or two managers at Norwich and the gaffer now is brilliant. He lets me know if I'm not pulling my weight, he won't let me get away with anything and he expects nothing but high standards. Under Bruce (Rioch) it was a bit different - he wanted to do a job more than anything and you would be restricted to a certain extent with him. But Bryan lets you express yourself and it's good to work with someone like that."

There's no doubt the feeling is reciprocated; Hamilton is well aware he has one of the First Division's best players in his midst. Yet that's precisely what Bellamy wants to prove this term. "I just want to make up for last year - I've got to prove myself and maybe look to be one of the outstanding players in the division," he revealed.

But can he be THE best in the division? He said: "There are a lot of good players about and my aim is just to play as well as I can for as long as I'm with Norwich."

So much depends on Bellamy if the Canaries are to succeed this season. Expectations haven't been dampened by them missing out by some margin on the play-offs in each of the five seasons since relegation from the Premiership, and their star striker believes the division this time around isn't as strong as it has been previously.

"You need a good start, to get yourself flying high, and we'll see where we go from there," said Bellamy. "But not many teams in this division can say they are very good, it's not that strong a league, although some of the teams are signing players.

"We have got good players in the club who can do better than they have done before. "The team is much better now. I think the league is weaker and we are stronger so the crowd have got every reason to be optimistic."

At this point in the interview Bellamy returned unprompted to a subject he first raised at the tail end of last season: mid-table finishes. Nothing appears to frustrate the young striker as much as the idea of playing for nothing at the climax of a long, tough campaign. Almost as much as his willingness to make up for lost time, that would appear to be a reason for his determination to inspire the Canaries to greater things this term.

"At the end of last season there was nothing to play for and that has happened too many times," he insisted. "It's about time we got involved in a big push for the Premiership and if some players don't want to be part of that, the manager won't have them here. Don't get me wrong. I don't think we're as well equipped as other clubs. Looking at their squads, we haven't got the depth. A few injuries and we will be knackered, there's no doubt about that.

"Whereas other clubs, if they get injuries, have players to replace them. But our best 11 - and there's one or two others who won't be in the squad but can do a job - could provide a game for anyone."

Especially if Craig Bellamy is firing on all cylinders - but will that be as a centre-forward or as a withdrawn striker operating just behind Roberts and Giallanza? Both formations have been used in pre-season games and Hamilton is giving nothing away as to which system will be adopted at Barnsley tomorrow.

Bellamy said: "When I play up front I've got a licence to be in the places I want to be. Dropping back is part of my game - I don't see myself as a centre-forward, I just see myself as a player and I want the ball at every opportunity to make things tick for the team. "As a team you've got to be flexible and in certain games if you think things are not going well, you can change it to give teams a problem. The players are adapting to that."

But whereas with Norwich this talented youngster can roam the field with freedom, when it comes to the international arena he has to hope he merely gets picked. Many onlookers can't begin to understand why Bellamy is not an automatic first choice for Wales. It's not as if Mark Hughes is over burdened with options; more often than not, he relies on his contemporaries like Dean Saunders who, frankly, haven't got too much too offer these days.

Yet the City striker is philosophical about his battle to establish himself in the national side. He said: "I don't think I will get as much recognition from Wales while I'm with Norwich. The message seems to be, the more Premiership players the better in the Welsh team, and rightly so." Still, he at least has time on his side, not to mention confidence. In fact, not even the weight of expectation from people across Norfolk will dampen his tenacious outlook towards the game.

When I suggested there might be some pressure in carrying the dreams of the City fans on his young shoulders, he replied: "I set my own standards, and I just want to be a better player than I have been before. I need to improve my game, to be honest, and this year is the next stage for that."

That sounded interesting. What exactly does a footballer with a price tag the size of a Lottery jackpot do to improve himself? He said: "I want to have better awareness, better touch. I want to go to the top, not just make a living out of the game. I want to be a recognised player; I want to win things. To do that, I have to keep improving." Perhaps the Premiership, never mind Division One, had better look out.

Lewis Wiltshire

Page last updated 24 June, 2009