CRAIG Bellamy is all too aware of his reputation. “If I ever did a book, it would be called ‘Don’t Google Me’,” he said yesterday at his first press conference since joining Manchester City from West Ham.
If you ignore his suggestion, the first entry that comes up is his Wikipedia profile, which tells you all about the spat with Graeme Souness at Newcastle and the alleged golf club incident involving John Arne Riise at Liverpool.
Also on the first page of links, you’ll find the Craig Bellamy Foundation website. It explains how Bellamy visited Sierra Leone in the summer of 2007, witnessed the scale of poverty in the country as it attempts to recover from the effects of civil war, and decided to do something about it.
The aim of the foundation is to use football to give young people in Sierra Leone a focus for positive social development. Bellamy reportedly invested £650,000 of his own money into the project, which includes the building of a football academy and the development of a health awareness education programme.
It’s a big project – not least because Sierra Leone has no junior level football structure at all. The foundation is taking on a long-term project.
There have been articles on the foundation before – and it is mentioned on Bellamy’s Wikipedia profile. But it’s not something he has gone out of his way to publicise.
And those who would suggest that Bellamy has done the whole thing for a bit of positive PR might want to bear this in mind: When he first visited Sierra Leone, it was against the wishes of his then club Liverpool, who wouldn’t insure him for the trip. He went anyway.
Since then, Bellamy has worked with Tom Vernon – Manchester United’s chief scout in Africa, and a man with the knowhow to get the project off the ground – in order to start putting the building blocks in place.
When it is fully up and running, there will be 68 new boys’ teams playing in 14 new junior leagues.
It was not something Bellamy discussed yesterday, at a press conference which gave a little more insight into a complex character.
“Not a lot of people have really got close to me,” he said.
“I have this reputation and there have been incidents in the past which I hold my hand up to.
“No matter what I am perceived to be, I am actually a very private person and try to stay away from everything. Whether that sometimes annoys people, I don’t know.
“But usually after a day or so at a new club, my team-mates wonder what the fuss is all about.”
The problem is that Bellamy has had a lot of new clubs. He will make his City debut tonight against Newcastle – one of his seven former teams. If he gets a goal, he will become only the fifth player to have scored in the Premier League for six different teams. He won’t be the youngest player to have done it – Marcus Bent holds that record – but he is still only 29.
(And since you ask, the other players to have done it – apart from Bent – are Les Ferdinand, Andy Cole and Nick Barmby.)
If there’s one word that sums up Bellamy’s career so far, it’s “restless”. At times, it’s almost as if he has had too much energy – and has got himself into trouble as a result. If he can direct some of that fizz into his charity work, and the rest into his football, he may well turn out to be £14million well spent for Manchester City.
In the meantime, given his chequered career, it is understandable why he fears the tentacles of internet search engines.