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Bellamy weaving fairy tales at Liverpool
Craig Bellamy had revenge on his former club tonight, scoring the critical goal to give Liverpool a 3-2 aggregate win over Manchester City and a place in the Carling Cup final. Bellamy’s goal, created by Dirk Kuyt on a give-and-go with Glen Johnson, gives the Reds a chance to win their first League Cup since 2003.
Liverpool will now face Cardiff City at Wembley on February 26. The Championship side outlasted Crystal Palace Tuesday night to advance to the final on penalty kicks.
Bellamy’s performance was a fairytale nearly too perfect as to be unbelievable. In winning the tie for Liverpool, Bellamy set up a meeting with one of his former clubs — one which also happens to be his childhood favorite. The 32-year-old was also a free transfer from none other than Manchester City, leaving the club after a falling out with manager Roberto Mancini. And, Bellamy was preferred tonight by Kenny Dalglish over the younger and vastly more expensive Andy Carroll.
He was easily the best player on the pitch.
All season long, while Liverpool have lurched from crisis to crisis, Bellamy has been the reliable man up top. Luis Suarez is of course suspended, and Carroll is arguably the biggest transfer bust after Fernando Torres. But very few thought that Bellamy, who has a history of bad behavior, would be a leader this year. He’s proven Dalglish right and his legion of doubters wrong.
When Steven Gerrard was out for a long spell, it was Bellamy’s play on the field and strong words in the locker room that settled the young Reds. Where other players have gotten into trouble — notably Carroll, Suarez and Stewart Downing — Bellamy has remained a source of strength. How did this man, once notorious for burning bridges with managers and acrimoniously bounced out of both Newcastle and Liverpool, turn things around?
Simply put, it seems like the Welshman has grown up.
Not so long ago, Bellamy’s career looked to be over. He seriously considered retirement after the sacking of manager Mark Hughes at City and begged the club to let him out on loan to Wales. In Cardiff, he was a heroic figure, single-handedly carrying the Bluebirds to within touching distance of the Premier League last season. In so doing, he convinced City that he had value, and a hefty transfer fee was slapped on him that deterred the Welsh side from retaining him.
For months, he worried that he would be one of the condemned men that litter Ewen Fields - Mancini’s expensive gaggle of outcasts. But, on deadline day, Bellamy was allowed to join his former club, Liverpool, for nothing.
It was seen as a foolhardy move: After all, this is the club where he had famously feuded with Rafa Benitez, found himself benched for the 2007 Champions League final, and then got shipped off to Upton Park. Bellamy, a veteran of nine clubs now, was seen as a reclamation project, a clubhouse cancer — even as a danger to an impressionable young team.
Instead, Bellamy put his head down. He is the club’s second leading scorer across all play, and he has not attracted the poisonous headlines of years past. Some of that is due to the tragedy that struck him earlier this year, when his friend and Wales manager, Gary Speed, killed himself in November. Bellamy was profoundly affected, so distraught that Dalglish held him out of a game.
Some of it surely has to be due to the respect that Dalglish has shown him, and tonight that faith was repaid several times over.
Liverpool still have a struggle ahead of them. They have not performed up to snuff in the Premier League and have a real fight on their hands just to secure a place in Europe next season. Winning a League Cup — and securing their first piece of silver since 2006 — would be the kind of springboard this club so badly needs.
After the game, a thrilled Bellamy told the cameras simply, “It's funny how football can work out at times.”
Jamie Trecker is the senior editor for FOXSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League.
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