‘We play shapes, not formations’: Bellamy plots his Wales shake-up

<span>Hensol Castle was chosen as the site for Craig Bellamy’s full unveiling as the new Wales head coach.</span><span>Photograph: Barrington Coombs/PA</span>
Hensol Castle was chosen as the site for Craig Bellamy’s full unveiling as the new Wales head coach.Photograph: Barrington Coombs/PA

To get a flavour of quite how hungry Craig Bellamy is to succeed as a manager, listen to him talk about watching Wales’s next opponents, Turkey, eight times in the past week, since it became apparent he would get his hands on the job he has always pined for. Bellamy the player was an emotional leader, an inspirational figure and a firebrand happy to dig out teammates after weak performances, but Bellamy the coach is an obsessive used to turning in marathon days in pursuit of victory. Poring through clips of players is one example of his inner workings. “I’ve got a load of South Africa at the moment, but I think we’re OK,” he says, smiling.

It may come in handy down the line. After all, Bellamy’s overarching aim is to help Wales to make the 2026 World Cup. He is a magnetic, patriotic and complex character and an hour in his company at Hensol Castle, on the outskirts of Cardiff, flies by as he discusses everything from the Owain Glyndŵr tattoo celebrating Wales’s 15th-century victory over England at the Battle of Pilleth on his right arm and his mental wellbeing to the erosion of some footballing fundamentals.

“I think you need to move away from formations, need to start looking at football differently, we don’t play formations, we play shapes,” he says. “The idea is: ‘Can I create an extra player in a part of the field where you [the opposition] don’t have it?’”

Related: Craig Bellamy to take over as Wales manager and target World Cup spot

Bellamy cares deeply. In the past perhaps too much and he acknowledges in some quarters there are perceptions to be put to bed. After working alongside Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht and more recently Burnley, he wanted to move out of the shadows and become a manager in his own right, in part to shake any accusations that he lacks the experience to take a top job. But he knows this is also a chance to address another elephant in the room. “Temperament,” he says, “that’s a nice word that usually gets used. Hopefully after a few months, a year, maybe two, maybe three – I don’t know – I think then you’ll have a good understanding that ‘yeah, [his] temperament is fine, now he has experience’, and hopefully I’ll be able to dismiss that. It is also important for me to dismiss that.”

Bellamy made 78 appearances for his country, captaining them between 2007 and 2010, and appeared at home in familiar surrounds, striding into a room of reporters in white trainers and a light-blue suit with the Wales crest fixed on his lapel. Does being back in his birthplace carry extra significance? “That wasn’t the big calling for me,” he says. “I’ve got to be honest, I felt at home at Burnley. I feel like every job I do or wherever I’ve worked or played, it’s always been the biggest club, it’s always the best club in the world. This now is the best job in the world, Wales are the best football nation in the world, that’s how it feels to me. That’s what it feels I am representing and that’s how I try to challenge it.”

The Football Association of Wales moved quickly to hire Bellamy on a four-year contract, with the 44-year-old highly regarded for his work alongside Kompany. He could have stayed on under Scott Parker, with whom he played at West Ham. But the appeal of Wales was too strong. “It hasn’t left me,” he says. “I spoke to Vincent for about an hour yesterday, and he said: ‘I knew this was the one job I could lose you to.’ He’d never said that to me, but he felt in the time we worked together it was the role he knew he wouldn’t be able to talk me out of.”

Bellamy was influential in helping Burnley win promotion to the Premier League with a swashbuckling, dominant style, one he hopes to replicate with Wales. “I think a lot of people get confused with building from the back: it’s not an ego trip,” he says. “It’s not to try to look smarter than the opposition: it is to score. If I can get there in one, I’ll get there in one: perfect. The players are always setting traps. Throw-ins, corners, everything we do is to look to score goals.”

Bellamy previously criticised Wales’s former managers including Ryan Giggs and Robert Page for living in England and says he will return to Cardiff to do the job. “You have to be on the ground,” he says, before stressing the importance of children being able to access the game at grassroots. “I don’t want the sport to become elitist,” he says. “In an era where we’re very computerised, keeping healthy is huge.” A few minutes later he adds: “Be careful that I don’t riddle and go off, because it [my mind] races.” Maybe it is too late but, in an instant, he has restored an absent energy to the country’s football fans. His next task is to reinvigorate the team and elevate them to new highs. With Bellamy, it is sure to be a fun ride.