Ex-Cardiff City, Liverpool and Celtic star Craig Bellamy reveals emotional moment with daughter that led to Anderlecht exit as he ponders future
Former Cardiff City striker Craig Bellamy has opened up about the heartbreaking reasons he decided to take a step back from football.
The former Bluebirds, Liverpool, Manchester City and Celtic forward was in charge of Anderlecht's under-21s up until last month, when he left his post citing struggles with his mental health.
He realised that being in Belgium, away from his family, was having a big impact on him and spoke about how all that came to a head in August last year after his daughter Orla's first birthday.
"I came back in August after pre-season with Anderlecht and it was my daughter’s first birthday and there was a party for her and she didn’t know who I was," he told the Mail on Sunday.
"I held out my arms and she wouldn’t come to me. Why would she? She had only seen me on eight or nine occasions and even then I was only around for 24 hours at a time. I wasn’t really a part of Orla’s life.
"‘Family members were all around, celebrating her birthday. If I went anywhere near her, she didn’t want to know. But she was going to her cousins and people like that.
"I didn’t even want to go up to her because it looked embarrassing. I got out of there and I started crying."
Bellamy goes on to speak about his early days at Norwich City as a 15-year-old, when he struggled being separated from his parents and family back in Cardiff.
He said he would close himself off and shut himself down emotionally in an attempt to aid his self-preservation, and the former Wales international said he regressed into that teenage version of himself at times out in Belgium, before he snapped out of it and made the brave decision to return home.
He insists that speaking about mental health as a sportsperson is no longer a taboo and it is a positive thing that more and more people are opening up about their experiences with it.
He added: "There was a point in Belgium where I tried to go the Norwich way and block it all out. I said to everyone at home: 'Forget about me, I’m not coming back'. I started to think that maybe it would be better for the baby that way because it would only confuse her if I was coming in and out of her life. I tried it. I went a month.
"I thought it was the only way I could do it but I knew it wasn’t right. I wish I could be less emotional and more ruthless but I am not built that way. I have to deal with that and face up to it. If I am going to bring someone into this world, I have to make sure she knows her dad loves her and that I’m here for her."
Bellamy had linked up with his former Manchester City team-mate Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht, with the Belgian ex-defender operating as manager of the first team.
Bellamy, who joined Anderlecht in 2019 after leaving the Bluebirds amid an internal investigation into coaching practices following allegations of bullying, said the knowledge he gained during his time in Belgium was invaluable.
"I’m proud of what I achieved there. I know so much more about the game than I ever did before," he added. "I see the game in a completely different light. I am more complete in football than I’ve ever been. I’m ready for anything now. I ticked every box that I didn’t have in terms of the football. It was just the balance. The travel restrictions killed me. When I left, I felt so proud of the impact I had."
He is back living in Cardiff now and sees a counsellor, something he recommends others do if they are struggling with mental health issues.
There is a large number of Bluebirds fans who would like him to become Cardiff manager one day, but that is nowhere near his radar at the moment. Quite whether there is too much water under the bridge for him to be offered the post, given the manner of his exit in 2019, is another consideration, too.
Before he left Anderlecht, sporting director Peter Verbeke told Bellamy he would always have the option to come back as an assistant manager and in fact put his contract in the club's safe.
But there is certainly no rush to get back on the grass. There are more important things for Bellamy to consider right now.
"I need to take a break," he said. "I need to spend time around people I haven’t spent time around. I tell players to put family first and I have to lead by example. Because I wasn’t. Do I see my life without football? No. But I have more important issues to address. For me to be at peace, I need to take a little while away.
"I’m not putting a time limit on that. I can feel the urge to go back. I wake up every morning. I miss the training buzz. I miss the smell of the grass, I miss setting up pitches, designing the session, building towards the game. I had all that. But I made the right decision to leave.
"I was under no grand illusion that suddenly now I’m back, I’m going to see Orla every day. Now, it’s a transition period. I see Orla twice a week, which isn’t enough but everyone has to adapt. In a lot of ways, I feel like the luckiest man alive.
"And there’s another thing: when I reach out my arms now, Orla comes to me."
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