In football they say ‘never go back’ but Craig Bellamy had more than his fair share of unfinished business.
A single mixed season in red ended with him being deemed surplus to requirements and shipped out to West Ham in 2007. Many claim this deal was put into motion as a way to finance Fernando Torres’ arrival, Bellamy the scapegoat in the painting of a much broader picture. Nevertheless his departure frustrated many, with his best attributes left untapped by then boss Rafa Benitez. It also marked an unfulfilled end to the Welshman’s childhood aspirations of representing HIS team.
Temperamental he may be but no one can doubt Beller’s ability on the field. And sure enough he quickly galvanised his career, starring at both Upton Park and Eastlands before falling out with Roberto Mancini. A loan spell at Cardiff preceded a stand-off with Manchester City and an eventual escape route from his Premier League exile. Ever the opportunist, Kenny Dalglish duly swooped and orchestrated our best free transfer since Gary McAllister joined from Coventry.
Buoyed by the presence of Dalglish and his famed man-management style, Bellamy has been nothing short of a revelation since August. Feeling wanted has no doubt encouraged the fiery striker to express himself and we have certainly reaped the rewards. In Wednesday night’s pulsating semi-final against his previous employers, the reds number 39 played like a man possessed. Hounding his opponents and offering consistent outlets with his both pace and movement, he redefined the role of a lone striker. Neither Joleon Lescott nor the hapless Stefan Savic were given a moments respite, their unease testament to Bellamy’s sheer work rate. His energy also set a tempo to Liverpool’s attack, not at all laboured but fast and relentless.
An equalising/winning goal at the Kop End was a fitting crescendo to a quite breathtaking performance. Having helped secure a first Wembley appearance since 1996, Bellamy can now play a key role in our daunting hunt for fourth place. Admittedly, his injury record means great attention must be paid to the demands placed upon him but if utilised sensibly he could provide great assistance to the talismanic Luis Suarez. At this moment in time you could make a fair case for calling him our player of the season, along with imperious contenders Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and Jose Enrique.
Bellamy offers something different to the Liverpool ranks. His pace – even at 32 – is still capable of stretching backlines, while his win at all costs mentality brings out the best in those around him. On Saturday against United he could be seen barracking team-mates, demanding a better standard from all. Players such as Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson, who tend to flitter in and out of games, will respond to a rollicking of that nature. His goals meanwhile have been a welcome relief to the side this term. He mustered just nine in his first spell at Anfield but has already registered eight in this his second coming. That is a decent return for a player starting only occasionally and more often than not out wide. If Andy Carroll – who fared much better against United – can heed the example of Bellamy he will endear himself even if things are not falling for him.
The Kop back anyone who gives 100%, which is why Dirk Kuyt’s winner on Saturday was all the more sweeter. By his own standards this season has been rather turgid for the Dutchman but his application and effort is never in question, generating loyalty from the stands. Bellamy has firmly established that kind of rapport also, as evidenced by the standing ovation afforded him when introduced at the weekend.
With Suarez set to return next week there is reason for optimism. We are about to enter a defining period which will surely determine whether or not Champions League qualification is attainable. Tomorrow night’s game at Wolves will provide a stern test but becomes a must-win fixture from our perspective. The horror show at The Reebok Stadium seriously undermined our European credentials and saw us lose further ground to an indifferent Chelsea. Such slip-ups are now out of the question if we are to sustain a challenge.
Next Monday meanwhile we face a mouth-watering match-up with Spurs at home, a team sure to attack rather than park the bus and stifle. In some ways that will suit us better, as we tend to wilt when asked such questions. Thereafter we travel down the East Lancs. for an emotionally charged battle with the old enemy, while games with Arsenal and a re-arranged derby sandwich the Carling Cup Final and a fifth round FA Cup tie with Brighton.
If the squad approach this window with the same steely determination they have this past week there is no reason why we cannot turn this into a pretty decent campaign. Those questioning the manager following our Bolton collapse have hopefully re-assessed their positions since. Dalglish is merely a year into his return to the hot-seat and has already made giant strides towards restoring us to the elite.
Mischievous ‘pundits’ continually compare his showing with that of Roy Hodgson’s but such conclusions are worthless and in truth like matching Susan Boyle with Megan Fox.
The style of play under Hodgson was depressingly negative, with us not so much playing with the handbrake on but with all four wheels removed. In contrast Dalglish has implemented that classic pass and move style, as well as an attacking emphasis. We have also sharpened-up defensively and began competing away from home – overcoming Arsenal, Chelsea (three times), Everton and City in the past year.
Liverpool are a work in progress with a quick-fix never likely. Patience is needed and knee-jerk reactions nonsensical. Keep faith in The King and he will eventually mastermind a return to the top, just as he has a return to Anfield South. In the meantime it is about finishing this season strongly, with both silverware and a real tussle for that coveted fourth spot. Whatever the outcome Craig Bellamy is sure to have a big say in matters, just the way he likes it.