'Forget about formations!' Inside Craig Bellamy's first public appearance as Wales boss

-Credit: (Image: PA)
-Credit: (Image: PA)

'Best human being', 'best I can be', 'be the best', 'best person' (twice).

All of those lines featured in Craig Bellamy's answer as he was inevitably quizzed on some of the negative perceptions that have clung to his name in recent years.

The new Wales boss is, by his own admission, a man of many faults. However, he insists self-awareness isn't one of them.

Bellamy's unveiling as the successor to Rob Page heralds a new era for Welsh football, but the new man in the hot-seat is clearly acutely aware that in some quarters he is still viewed as a divisive figure.

His critics over the years certainly haven't always been short of material. A colourful playing career, and of course his last coaching stint in Wales, where he left his beloved Cardiff City under a cloud in 2019, have pushed some people's opinions to the point of no return, but Bellamy insists such views do a disservice to the personal growth he feels has underpinned his objectively impressive rise as a coach.

Proving any remaining naysayers wrong feels like a big motivation.

"I put myself under more scrutiny than anyone," he told the press at his unveiling on Wednesday. "I'm so determined to be the best human being I can. It's a driving force for me.

"Of course I'm not the finished article. I never will be, I'm not perfect. I'm yet to come across anyone who is. But anything I've ever done I've owned. I've never shied away from it. Any mistake I've made, I've owned. I'll admit it. I'll be honest and I'll own it.

"That's because I want to be the best person I can be. I'm still striving for that and it's a real burning desire for me.

"I completely understand the perceptions. Inexperience - that's always going to get thrown. Temperament - that's a nice word that usually likes to get used.

"Until I'm able to do it, then hopefully after a few months, after a year, maybe two, maybe three, I don't know, I think people will have a good understanding that the temperament's fine and will be able to say 'now he has the experience'. So hopefully I'll be able to dismiss that. It's also important for me as well to be able to dismiss that. "

Changing those perceptions will only be one part of the challenge, of course. He certainly cannot allow himself to get too wrapped up in any personal vendettas against the critics. After all, getting Wales to the next World Cup is the only thing that will ultimately really matter.

But while he claims to have matured, it's obvious that the fire that has burned so brightly in the belly of this proud Welshman hasn't really died down. One only has to hear him talk about this job to draw that conclusion.

Instead, he suggests, it's merely been channelled differently. Used as fuel for an obsessive dedication to getting the very best out of his team - and indeed himself.

It's for that reason that the FAW didn't need too much convincing.

After all, out of all of the candidates in the mix, few will have viewed this job with the same level of enthusiasm.

Thierry Henry might well have presented a strong case, but would have surely seen Wales as a stepping stone to something else. Rob Edwards and Steve Cooper, both of whom are highly thought of at the FAW, seem quite happy with their respective English clubs.

Even Osian Roberts, the man many felt was the stand out choice, made it clear that he was committed to the Serie A project at Como.

The new Wales Head Coach Craig Bellamy poses for a photograph while holding a Wales football shirt at The Vale Resort -Credit:Getty
The new Wales Head Coach Craig Bellamy poses for a photograph while holding a Wales football shirt at The Vale Resort -Credit:Getty

For Bellamy, however, this job really does feel like the pinnacle of his career. There's nothing else that can even hold a candle to this job in terms of importance.

He appears ready to make sure his players feel the same way. Certainly, it feels his attitude to coaching largely mirrors his own outlook on life.

"It's not about winning," he says. "It's that I hate losing more. There's a big difference. I believe if you give everything you've got, and this isn't just football it's in life, mistakes will happen. I've no issue with that.

"It's about learning and also trying to be the best you can be. I believe that's winning. If I don't prepare and I don't put the effort in, and we lose. That's something I really struggle to cope with. I don't like that from myself as a person. I know everyone will say about winning. But for me you can sometimes win in different ways.

"For me, if we play incredibly well, we might not win or get the result, but I'm good. I see winning as being about longevity. We'll get there in the end. It's not a problem. But losing and not being able to play well and not being able to carry out and give your all during that period then I find that difficult.

"I've just had two seasons. The first season winning nearly every week, dominating the league in a manner that's quite rare in a very difficult league. But also going to the Premier League then and losing most weeks. I've seen the level of how much you learn. Basically, you learn more when you're losing. I'm clearer now than I was the season before. So you have to take the rough with the smooth."

Bellamy's coaching journey, along with his more personal philosophies, have clearly helped establish several key non-negotiables. As well as effort, he believes respect will be central to any sort of success.

"Everyone has to have that respect for each other to go in that one direction," he adds.

"Respect for the shirt as well. Can you leave that shirt in a better place than when you found it? So that when you hand it over someone else is able to improve that as well.

"Those are huge parts to me. Even how you leave the room. When we go to an away game, we clean up after ourselves. It’s no one’s job to clean up after us. We leave it as we found it because that’s the respect we have for everyone else."

But what about style? What does a Craig Bellamy side actually look like?

"I do like front-foot football. I like pressing. I like us working hard without without the ball. The team comes first so we’re difficult to break through. We have high intensity and we build from the back. Building up from the back isn’t an ego trip or look smart in front of the opposition. It’s to score. If I can get there in one, I’ll get there in one. Perfect.

"We commit. Everyone commits to it. Everything’s to score. Everything we do is to look to score goals. They’re key elements to my game.

Craig Bellamy has been named Wales head coach on a deal until until 2028. -Credit:PA
Craig Bellamy has been named Wales head coach on a deal until until 2028. -Credit:PA

"I know you guys might want to talk about formations, but I think you might need to look away from that. You need to start looking at football a bit differently. We don’t play formations, we play shapes. The idea is to create an extra player in the part of the field where we don’t have it. It’s 2 v1s, looking to create those areas in every part of the football pitch."

There's clearly some room for fluidity in terms of the details, but the one constant will be the meticulous level of preparation. Bellamy says he's already looked through various metrics of players throughout the squad. He's also watched Turkey, his side's Nations League opponents in September, eight times already.

"Speaking with David Adams, it was just about how I can turn it into day to day," he explains. "I cannot be not working. We’ve worked out a plan of action where I’m constantly working, using my time right and like a club."

Whether all of this will translate to success remains to be seen. But Wales do seem to have hired someone that carries a genuine obsession for the job.

That, many will argue, can only be a good thing.