Football: Hartson may play minder to Bellamy

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The Independent Online
Graeme Souness once suffered a very bruised ego at East End Park. If Craig Bellamy fails to follow in the footsteps of his nemesis today, it will only be because of an aversion to plastic pitches, not another fall-out with a manager.

The tempestuous Welsh striker's debut for Celtic, after being rescued by Martin O'Neill from his cold war with Souness at Newcastle United, could be delayed until next Sunday. The Scottish Cup fourth-round encounter with Dunfermline Athletic - a repeat of last season's final - is to his liking, but not the hosts' artificial surface.

O'Neill fears the hard surface could trigger Bellamy's old injuries. For Souness, East End Park simply opens old wounds. When he was player- manager of Rangers, his team were knocked out of the Scottish Cup in 1988. Predictably, it brought a tirade against his players.

While Bellamy has been cast in the role of the devil for his very public defiance of Souness at St James' Park, there is no doubt that he has now come under a very different style of man-management. O'Neill demands as much discipline, but his method has not left a trail of victims. While Bellamy contributed to his abrupt exit from Tyneside, Souness's litany of confrontations can be traced all the way back to Ibrox, where he ruthlessly dropped and then sold Terry Butcher, his first, and most successful, captain.

"Craig will find there are one or two big personalities in our dressing room, so he won't have it all his own way there," noted O'Neill wryly. "I don't know the ins and outs of what happened [at Newcastle], so it would be a bit premature to comment.

"I could say something and then find out he's picking the team here in two weeks - and knowing Craig, he will be. But on a serious note, he seems the type of character not to let it bother him greatly. There are a lot of people having their say, but you take it with a pinch of salt."

O'Neill's brief spell at Norwich City saw him overlap with the then teenaged Bellamy in 1995. "He was about 14 and demanding to know why he wasn't in the team," joked O'Neill. However, the Celtic manager is deadly serious when it comes to turning this five-month loan into a permanent pounds 6m move in the summer. "If we have Champions' League football to offer, hopefully that might persuade him," said O'Neill. "He felt he needed to get his head clear before making any permanent decision. Being at Celtic will give him time to reflect, and I think the change in environment will do him no harm. He's an exciting player, but I think this will give a wee extra edge to do something special for us."

O'Neill may choose to use John Hartson as a possible role model to inspire Bellamy. The once-itinerant striker has found a permanent home at Parkhead and recently extended his contract to take him up to 2008, yet Hartson knows that he will have to be as much of a minder as an adviser to his Welsh compatriot.

"I've been here four years now and you simply cannot afford to go around like Craig does and say the things he does," said Hartson. "I'll be having a word. Craig is not an 18-year-old any more. He's 25 and needs to take stock of things. He will have to be careful where he eats, drinks and mixes in Glasgow. But he is a great footballer with undoubted talent. If I was a Rangers fan, I would be worried."