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May 22, 2014

Craig Bellamy hangs up his boots

Craig Bellamy won the last of his 73 caps for Wales in October.
Craig Bellamy won the last of his 73 caps for Wales in October.

Former Wales international Craig Bellamy has announced his retirement at the age of 34.

Morris: Cardiff season review

Bellamy helped Cardiff City, his hometown club, to promotion to the Premier League a year ago but was unable to prevent their relegation this season.

The striker -- who played for clubs including Norwich, Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester City and won the 2005 Scottish Cup with Celtic as well as the 2012 League Cup with Liverpool -- revealed he had offers from clubs in England and America but is unable to play on any longer.

He told WalesOnline: "It's been on my mind to finish playing for the last couple of years, but this time I've had to make a decision. I've had to listen to my body.

"Usually, whenever I went into a new season I set myself a specific challenge. For last couple of years, that challenge was just to be able to get out there on the pitch and be able to play.

"I guess over the years I've become accustomed to the pain from various injuries, but for the last three to four years I've been on anti-inflammatories every day.

"I'm not sure my body will think that's a wise thing in due course, but it kept me playing for that period. However, the time has come to stand aside and say enough."

Bellamy revealed he had to be persuaded to play on this season by former Cardiff boss Malky Mackay but added: "I wasn't sure I could offer too much, to be honest.

"Look back at pictures and you'll see I finished that Championship-winning campaign with strapping on my knee, strapping elsewhere, strapping pretty much everywhere just to get me through.

"But Malky said: 'I don't expect you to play as many games, but we need your experience and know-how around the place for the Premier League.' "He convinced me ... so I ended up giving it one more season. But the idea was always to retire then and, two weeks after the end of the campaign, this is the correct time to make the announcement."

Bellamy's final appearance came in the 2-1 defeat at home to Chelsea on May 11, when his shot took a deflection from Cesar Azpilicueta to give the Bluebirds the lead.

"If there was a fitting way to bow out, this was it," he says. "The Premier League, a packed Cardiff City Stadium, my home city, Chelsea, walking off to a round of applause when I was substituted, looking around and seeing the fans wearing blue. Then, as I was walked off the pitch, Jose Mourinho came up to me and said a few kind words.

"I walked straight down the tunnel. I wanted that to be my last memory of playing because it was so wonderful.

"It's the reason Cardiff fans didn't see me out doing the traditional end-of-season parade around the ground afterwards. I didn't want to do that in front of a half-empty ground, I wanted to leave with my memory.

"If I offended anyone by not being out there for that lap of honour, I certainly didn't mean it to be that way. This is my chance to explain, as such, why that was the case and I'm sure Cardiff fans will understand.

"I just recall walking off, Mourinho speaking to me, looking to my right, seeing the blue... and that was it -- I was down the tunnel with a memory of something I will never forget."

Bellamy had a reputation for causing trouble for a large part of his career and he admits he was "an angry young man at times."

However, he added: "I think that anger I've displayed has been channelled into making me a better player. It gave me determination to get through those many injury problems.

"I was always far more at ease with myself as a player during the last couple of years with Cardiff. Even if I did manage something special when I was younger, I would dismiss that success within seconds and set myself the next goal. That was what drove me on.

"If truth be known, I got little enjoyment for large parts of my career. In hindsight, I needed to reflect more, be proud of what I did. Instead, I set myself unrealistic targets at times.

"But in the last couple of years I've been more proud, able to step back, enjoy my accomplishments. Why? Because my mind was in a good place. Previously, defeats would drive me mad. As a professional, you're taught from a young age to despise losing.

"But I began to accept that in football you will win some games and you will lose some games, with draws here and there too. That's just the nature of the game. Sometimes days don't go for you and your opponents play better."

He added: "I've been privileged to play at some truly top clubs, next to brilliant teammates, excellent managers. People I'm honoured to be able to say were my colleagues.

"People know about Liverpool, Man City, Newcastle, Celtic, Cardiff -- but don't forget West Ham. Only on going there did I realise just what a massive club they are. To Londoners, West Ham are very much the club.

"I've met so many good people, coaches, backroom staff. Yes, there are some bad people involved in football, but you come across far more good than bad."

He said he is now taking his coaching badges as he plans for the next stage of his career.

"I've got A, B and C," he said. "I just need to do the Pro-Licence, which will prepare me properly for management. "I plan to visit lots of football club, home and abroad, look at training in different sports, to broaden my knowledge. Then, when the management opportunity comes, I will be as fully prepared as possible."

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