The derby master: Craig Bellamy provides his blueprint for success in Manchester and Merseyside derbies
Craig Bellamy knows only too well what the players of Liverpool, Everton, Manchester United and Manchester City have in store this weekend on a monumental Super Sunday.
Bellamy felt first-hand the passion, emotion and competitiveness involved with Merseyside and Manchester derbies having played for both Liverpool and City.
One player you did not want to see lining up against you was the Welshman.
Feisty, opinionated and all-action in nature, Bellamy flourished in the derby cauldron.
A record backed up by the numbers.
Bellamy played in 13 English derby matches during his career with Ipswich, Newcastle, Liverpool and City, winning eight, drawing two and losing just three.
Those defeats all came for City against Manchester United, although his two-goal performance in the 4-3 defeat at Old Trafford in 2009 signifies his influence in such occasions.
“I told myself ‘don’t get involved, play your game’ and you’d get opportunities,” he told Sky Sports.
As someone that didn’t mind mixing it physically with defenders twice his size, it comes as a surprise that Bellamy’s key to success in such matches did not involve pushing his aggression to the limits.
In fact, he did the exact opposite, using the eagerness and willingness of opposition defenders to his advantage.
“From a forward perspective, the more frantic the game is, the more chances I’m going to have,” Bellamy said.
“If they want to be the first every ball, especially defenders, if they want to get up quick and hit me with a tackle, great, I’m able to spin you. Derbies suited me not because it gave me extra motivation it was due to the fact it was more frantic.”
That aforementioned classic Premier League fixture, lit up by Michael Owen’s dramatic late winner, is at the forefront of Bellamy’s thoughts as he is asked about his Manchester derby memories.
Bellamy looked to have earned City an unlikely point as they came from behind for the third time to level only seconds before the end of the 90 minutes. With the City coaching staff arguing the amount of time being added on, Owen’s first goal for United at Old Trafford sent the red half of the city into a frenzy.
The emotions of that wild afternoon still are fresh in Bellamy’s memory eight years on.
“Even the security staff who were looking after the United players were cheering and lifting the players up – doing their best to wind us up,” he recalls.
“Our dressing room was silent for 10-15 minutes after, until I erupted!”
The conversation turns towards his memories of encounters in the hotbed of a Merseyside derby.
At Liverpool, in contrast to his experiences at City, he was part of a dressing room where the heartbeat of it were scousers.
The intensity was different, he admits. You were made well aware of your responsibility as a player for Liverpool not to lose to “the bitters” as Everton were known, according to Bellamy.
One of his eight derby wins as a player came at Wembley in an FA Cup semi-final in 2012. Everton were progressing under David Moyes and Liverpool were looking over their shoulders at their great rivals.
There was a genuine fear of a power shift.
“I remember going to Wembley and seeing how quiet Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were – who had seen it all,” Bellamy said.
“I remember Steven saying to Jamie: ‘we can’t lose tomorrow’. I was taken aback by it. These guys had played in European Cup finals but the importance of this game was evident. If they’re feeling it, we’ve got to perform.”
Bellamy answered the call: coming on as a substitute, he set up the late winner for Andy Carroll to send Liverpool to the final, cementing his status as the man for a derby occasion.