Vincent Kompany and I speak the same language in football, says Burnley assistant boss Craig Bellamy
It is late by the time Craig Bellamy gets back to his rented apartment. He opens the door and shows me in. The sitting room is spartan. No pictures, no decorations, no fuss, no mess. Clear, clean surfaces, two sofas, a flat-screen television on the wall.
‘I’d offer you tea or coffee or some food,’ Bellamy says cheerfully, as he stares out at the red tail lights of the Manchester traffic crawling through the darkness below, ‘but I haven’t got anything.’
Bellamy lives at the Burnley training ground. That’s his home in the North. This is just somewhere to sleep. Eat, sleep, football, repeat. It has always been that way with him, first as a player for Liverpool, Manchester City and a string of top-flight teams, and now as a respected coach whose reputation is on the rise for the work he is doing as Vincent Kompany’s No 2 at the club that is running away with the Championship this season.
‘I’m happy,’ Bellamy says. ‘I love what I am doing. As long as I’m in football, I’m OK. Outside life, then there’s a problem. My playing career has gone but I only see myself in football.
‘I love football people. I can tell if you’re not a football person. I’m more comfortable being around players. We talk the same language. I feel safe with them. That’s my environment. It’s all I’m comfortable with and it’s all I want to be comfortable with.’
Craig Bellamy has been a revelation as Vincent Kompany’s assistant manager at Burnley
Some might be confused by the evolution of Bellamy, 43, from the enfant terrible of the Premier League, a scourge of referees and the archetype of a player who could start a fight on an empty pitch into a cerebral, empathetic, fiercely driven coach who has helped transform Burnley into an attractive, agile, possession-based team who can compete physically with opponents, too.
But the truth is that Bellamy has always been a keen student of the game. He has always been eager to learn and to teach. Even when he was a player, he made regular trips to the Netherlands to study Dutch club sides. He is a devotee of Johan Cruyff and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of European football.
When Kompany, a one-time team-mate of Bellamy’s at City, took over at Anderlecht in 2020, Bellamy went with him. He overflows with evangelism when he talks about the job Kompany and his staff are doing at Turf Moor.
Some see them as an odd couple; the quiet, serious, urbane Belgian with his Masters degree in business, and the fiery Welshman who railed against authority and thrived on confrontation.
‘We are actually from similar backgrounds,’ Bellamy says, ‘so we had work ethic in common straight away. He speaks five different languages. I barely speak one. We are opposites on a lot of stuff in life but we speak the same language in football. We don’t believe we are geniuses. We are humble in how we see football.
‘It is the work, the dedication, the hours you put in, the meetings you attend. I want to stress that. It is about hard work.
‘I still feel a little bit behind his work ethic. I work hard. I work 12 or 14-hour days but Vinny is phenomenal. I am still blown away by him. I don’t know when he sleeps. Seriously. I don’t know when he has time. If he gets three hours’ sleep a night, I would be shocked. He works constantly. He has never had money to spend before. Now he is able to buy the odd player for a couple of million. People say we have bought the league. Really? We have spent £22million on 15 players.
‘So those people are insane. Look at Watford’s squad. One player is worth more than our whole squad. They didn’t sell anyone and still bought (players). Norwich? Do you see them selling? When we started pre-season, we hardly had anyone. The players we have here now amaze me every day.’
The pair played together at Manchester City, where they will return on Saturday in the FA Cup
Bellamy and Kompany, the former City captain, face an old boys’ reunion in the FA Cup quarter-finals against Pep Guardiola’s side at the Etihad on Saturday but they had a match at Hull City first — they won 3-1 — and Bellamy embarks on a stream of consciousness about plans for formations and pockets and grids and overloads and breaking lines and the benefits of a lop-sided 4-4-2. Sometimes, it feels like listening to Dennis Hopper’s photographer in Apocalypse Now, landing on fractions in space.
‘We’re beyond committed to a style of play,’ Bellamy says. ‘Everything is about why we do it. I know that Guardiola has had a huge impact on Vinny. He has had a huge impact on everyone. How can you love football and not love this human being? How can you not love what Guardiola has given us over the last 15 years, that Barcelona team and everything else he has created?
‘We love Cruyff, too, obviously. If I could have a statue of Cruyff at our training ground, I would. That is how important I believe he is to football. Vinny feels that way as well. The effect he’s had, he’s the most important man who has ever been involved in football.
‘Was Messi better as a player? Yes. Was Maradona better? Yes. But Cruyff wasn’t far off them and his effect on the game has surpassed anyone’s.
‘It’s because of the way he saw football, the way he played, what he expected from body angles, being open, not getting locked, moving the ball, the Dream Team, the way he played, he was a model of what a super-intelligent footballer is and he was able to transmit that into how a team could look. It was a period in the game that left a lasting effect.
‘I’d say there were three. There was Cruyff. I admire Cesar Luis Menotti a lot, too. He was an incredible coach and he had a huge impact on the game. Then, I look at Arrigo Sacchi. They were trailblazers. You watch their football and you think, ‘The game’s changed’. Then the Barcelona team of Pep’s did it again.
‘How do you combine everything? Being the highest goalscorers is not enough if you haven’t got the most clean sheets. Being good with the ball means nothing if you are not good without it.
Bellamy is a student of the game and names Johan Cruyff, Cesar Luis Menotti and Arrigo Sacchi as his coaching idols
‘We study more of Diego Simeone’s methods than anyone else’s. A lot of training drills are very Simeone-minded. We are getting a lot of applause for the way we play but watch us without the ball. That’s where we have been the best, until now anyway. We still haven’t achieved anything yet.’
Not yet, but they are getting close. The win over Hull put Burnley 13 points clear of Sheffield United, who are second in the Championship, and 19 points clear of Middlesbrough, who are third. Three more wins and they will be certain of securing an immediate return to the Premier League.
‘Other people can talk about promotion,’ Bellamy says, ‘but until it’s certain, we’re not going to think about it.
‘Our pressing, the intensity, winning duels, second ball, first ball, second ball. People believe you have to be a certain size to do that. It’s a myth. You can be as small as anything. It’s about whether you’re agile. Can you react?
‘We have got leaders in this team. They are always encouraging each other and we were lucky we inherited some of that ethos from when Sean Dyche was here.
‘Sean Dyche left a legacy that will never be forgotten. We wanted his period to be remembered. We have different ways of working to him but what he did gave us the opportunity to come here. His name is high up for us. There is no right in what we are doing or wrong in what he was doing. His legacy is intact with the club. The core values of the club that he left will always be there.’
Bellamy is looking forward to going back to City. He loved his time at the Etihad, right at the start of the Abu Dhabi revolution at the club, and if he had some well-publicised disagreements with Robinho over the Brazilian’s lack of work ethic, he admired other high-profile arrivals during that time such as Carlos Tevez.
Burnley went 13 points clear at the top of the Championship with their win over Hull last week
‘Tevez was an absolute warrior,’ Bellamy says. ‘I loved him as a player and liked him as a man. We know how hard it’s going to be against City but every game, you have to think you can win. We know the machine Man City is. They will say nice things about Vinny but they will be sure they’re going to beat us. They want to turn us over. There won’t be any old pals’ act.
‘Do they have more tools than anyone else we’ve faced? Definitely. They have weaknesses, too, yes, but fewer than most. That’s the challenge. They are an incredible team, incredible manager, incredible club.
‘What I have seen football-wise when I have watched them play has been remarkable. The way they have played as well. Pep was told, ‘You can’t play that type of football here, it won’t work’, when he first arrived here. Then they won the league with a record number of points soon after that. It’s been an incredible time to watch a real artist at work and Guardiola is that.
‘But we’ll try. Look, Burnley has been a godsend for me. Working here is amazing.
‘I am in a chain of coaches, physios, sports scientists, kitchen staff — everyone at that club contributes the same as me and that is the honest truth because you can’t do it otherwise.
‘If the coaching staff and the players work longer hours, that means the kitchen staff have to work longer hours. Everyone has stepped up. Everyone.
‘The manager is higher up than the rest of us, obviously, but I am the same as the rest of the group below him. Vinny’s on a different level. I would love to take credit but I just do what I’m told.’
Bellamy is one of that rare breed who retired from playing without bitterness or regret about what he achieved on the pitch. There is nothing he feels he could or should have done.
He suffered with knee injuries but within that context, he is content that he got the best out of himself. And now he is pouring himself into coaching with the same relentlessness and enthusiasm that he adopted as a player.
They will face their toughest test yet against Manchester City in the FA Cup on Saturday
‘Everything I wanted to achieve in football as a player, I achieved,’ he says. ‘I would have loved to win leagues and cups but I wasn’t good enough for that. I was good but I wasn’t like David Villa.
‘There was that next bracket and I was just a bit underneath that. If you want to challenge to get into the Champions League, I’m your man. But if you want to win the Champions League, you’re going to need someone else.
‘I’m so grateful for what I had and now I have to get better at living in the outside world.
‘I don’t completely cocoon myself in football because there is a life out there as well. Football protected me from all that, and when I came out of it I saw the world and some of it I didn’t quite like and some of it I loved. Football’s still my coping mechanism, though. It’s got to be football.’
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