Football: I would have been finished - it was me or Bellamy, says Souness

GRAEME SOUNESS said yesterday that he would have lost the respect of the Newcastle playing staff and effectively ended his managerial career had he not exiled Craig Bellamy to Celtic following the midfielder's accusation that his manager was a "liar".

"I'm experienced enough in this business to know that if I'd been seen to be weak in this situation there was no future for me with the players in the Newcastle dressing-room or [in] any job that I go [to] after Newcastle United, so I was put in an extremely difficult position," Souness said.

The 25-year-old Bellamy completed a loan move to Parkhead until the end of the season late on Monday night, after rejecting the chance to join Birmingham City in a pounds 6m permanent transfer, and later suggested that he could still have a future on Tyneside.

But Souness, who said last week that Bellamy would never play for Newcastle again as long as he remained in charge, insists nothing will change over the remaining months of the season. "One hundred per cent

I stand by everything I said," the Scot affirmed. "I think I'm like anybody else in this world - there are certain things you can forgive and some things you can forget."

The loan deal means the former Norwich and Coventry striker remains a Newcastle player and could return to St James' Park in May to serve out the remainder of his contract, although Celtic have an option to make the move permanent. That means that the row which reached boiling point when the Welsh international called his manager a liar on live television is not yet closed.

Asked what would happen in the summer, Souness replied: "We'll address it then."

"I've been concentrating on football. We've had a big FA Cup tie to play and we've got a big Premier League game, too. I wasn't directly involved in any of the transfer talk that went on, so I've just been doing my job."

The loss of Bellamy and the contract rebel Olivier Bernard, who has joined Southampton on a short-term contract, has reduced Souness's squad - but he is able to welcome back the midfielder Nicky Butt for the trip to face Manchester City.

Speculation that the 30-year-old could be absent for the rest of the season, with the hamstring injury which has caused him to miss the last 13 games, has proved unfounded. "He's had a good week's training and he's looked very good," Souness said.

Lee Bowyer is also back in contention after a groin strain, while the pounds 8m defender Jean-Alain Boumsong could return from a hamstring problem at the weekend, if not tonight.

The City manager Kevin Keegan was sympathetic towards Souness, his former Liverpool team-mate. "It is more difficult to be a football manager now than it has ever been," said the former Newcastle manager. "The players are wealthy young men in their own right and they have a lot of power. Clubs don't sell them; agents and the players themselves do that. It is a lot different to the sport Pele described as `the beautiful game', but that is the reality of the situation and you have to react to it.

"Graeme has not had an easy week or two because of problems with a certain player but he has acted in a manner he feels is appropriate for the benefit of Newcastle United. He has been decisive and sent a message out, so from that point of view it has been good management. Sometimes you have to forsake a good player to get the best out of others."

The same observation could be levelled at the departure of Nicolas Anelka, a striker of undoubted talent - he returned almost a goal every other game for City - but who remained aloof from most of his team-mates. Keegan refused to draw the parallel, insisting Anelka, signed for pounds 13m and sold for pounds 7m to the Turkish side Fenerbahce, had to go because of "financial reasons".

"We did have someone lined up to come in but it depended on Nicolas going out, which wasn't certain until midday yesterday when the window was virtually shut," Keegan said. "That was a slight disappointment but as far as Nicolas is concerned, I wish him all the best. It was a financial decision more than anything and there is nothing more to be said.

"People will write their articles but as far as I am concerned, that era is gone now and we just have to get on with life.

"It would be easy for people to look at this club and say, `You just lost a top player so you can't be going forward', but that is something I do not accept.

"We have proved here that we can do without him on numerous occasions in the past, now we have to keep doing it," Keegan added.

The new arrival Kiki Musampa will go straight into the City side. The loan signing will take over from Antoine Sibierski on the left of midfield.

Sibierski missed training yesterday with a virus but should be fit, although he may have to content himself with a place on the bench.

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