Craig Bellamy before an international friendly between Poland and Wales at Vila Real De Santo Antonio Sports Complex, Portugal, February 2009.

Celebrating Craig Bellamy & the most brutally honest post-match interview of all time

The post-match interview is one of football’s more flawed traditions.

As the demands of television have encroached upon what began as a weekend leisure activity, microphones are thrust under the noses of players and managers while the emotions of the recently finished match are running higher than a Worcestershire floodplain.

Expecting glowing insight, reasoned takes and magnanimity is a fool’s errand. Although, in an age where emotion is packaged into bitesize clips and used to gather clicks from the braying hyenas of the internet, perhaps that was never meant to be the intention.

In this particularly tedious game of chess, clubs have sought to offset any potential controversies by media coaching their employees to within an inch of their lives.

You get the impression that, in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, Jordan Henderson would stand in front of a camera and encourage the lads to ‘go again’ and ‘take defeat on the chin’. Zeus, it is not.

While spontaneity has largely been coached out of modern players, reflecting an increasingly systemised sport at elite level, nobody could’ve accused Craig Bellamy of following any pre-written script.

The first XL Bully to play in the Premier League, Bellamy scurried around the pitch with a fury that burnt with the heat of a thousand suns as opponents and officials scrambled for cover.

He was an excellent player too. Quick, committed and capable of stretching defences to the limit, Bellamy scored 19 goals in 78 appearances for Wales and was appointed captain of his country in 2007.

This was a very different era for Wales, before prime Gareth Bale and regular appearances at major tournaments. In March 2009, Bellamy led the side during an insipid 2-0 defeat to Finland at a third-full Millennium Stadium.

Any prospect of Wales playing at the World Cup appeared more remote than the UK choosing economic suicide by leaving the European Union. An earnest Sky reporter asked Bellamy for his thoughts, unaware he’d lit the blue touch paper.

“They’re not a good side,” Bellamy began, commenting on the Finland XI that had just recorded a comfortable victory in Cardiff.

“I suppose you’ve just seen two poor sides trying to contest this group. None of us have a glimmer of hope of qualifying. That’s a fact after what I’ve seen today. Where we go from here, god knows.”

After chucking all 22 players under the bus, he continued his brutally honest assessment of Finland’s footballing capabilities.

“I couldn’t see them [Finland] scoring,” he said. “We knew set-pieces were going to be dangerous, but they’re not a good side. I do feel we’re a better side, even though we’ve just lost. They’ve sucker-punched us, really.”

Rubbing his face in frustration, like a man watching his house being dispossessed, Bellamy proceeded to pour scorn on Jonatan Johansson for the heinous crime of opening the scoring.

“Johansson,” Bellamy scoffed of a 100-cap international who also spent six seasons in the Premier League with Charlton Athletic. “He scored, I don’t know how. I don’t think he’s a good enough player to score, but we were just poor.”

Asked how the side would prepare for their next match against Germany, he replied: “I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m going to do in the next hour, to be honest.” Perfect.

Naturally, Bellamy’s remarks caused a storm in Finland and, after a week of silence on the matter, Johansson hit back in a typically understated, yet furious, Scandinavian manner.

“We laughed about his comments on the team bus – after all, we did win 2-0,” the striker started promisingly, the matter-of-factness adding salt to Bellamy’s gaping wounds.

“But comments from a captain of his country show he has no class or integrity. I think that a captain of any country should – win or lose – represent the team he plays for.

“He should be a role model for his colleagues and the country he stands for, especially the thousands of youngsters who look up to him as a professional sportsman.

“The captain is the national ambassador and a certain class should come with that position.” Yikes.

“His comments have not gone down very well in Finland and he is not a very popular person,” Johansson continued, possibly leaving out how every Finnish school day began with 10 minutes of Bellamy hate and how pictures of his face were used for dart boards across Helsinki.

“You simply don’t talk down a team or a fellow player the way he did. He should have accepted the defeat and maybe looked a bit closer to home instead of pointing the finger elsewhere.

“We were the team playing away and won 2-0, I think that’s a very good result at the Millennium Stadium. We played a system and it worked and it’s kept our chances of qualifying alive.

“The guy should look at the bigger picture and what he represents because it does not put Welsh football in a good light.

“It’s not for me to get involved in whether he is actually a good captain or not, but his responsibilities are more than just on the field. They extend much further and he should realise that.”

Bellamy is a more measured figure these days, coaching at Burnley and coming across as a thoughtful student of the game in a number of interviews, but few have spoken their mind in the post-match presser quite like he did back in 2009.

Few Welsh fans wish for a return to an era of tiny crowds at the cavernous Millennium Stadiums, shaftings by European middleweights and a sense of hopelessness over the direction of their national side.

But many would admit a sense of nostalgia at Bellamy’s rant. And most supporters, of any persuasion, would feel nostalgic for the days when players freely spoke their truth.

By Michael Lee

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