Bellamy vows never to play for club or country if not fit

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The Independent Football

The Newcastle striker Craig Bellamy is adamant he has learned the lessons of his injury-plagued past and is determined never to risk his health for club or country again.

The Wales international is undergoing rehabilitation after being forced on to the sidelines by another knee operation.

Bellamy concedes he has often played for either Newcastle or Wales when he has not been fully fit. The 24-year-old is refusing to put pressure on himself regarding a potential comeback but says he will put himself first in future.

"I have got over the disappointment of having another knee injury and I am focusing on my rehabilitation, but it is too early to say when I will be able to play again," said Bellamy.

"I will return to playing only when my knee is 100 per cent fit. In the past I have played for both Wales and United when this has not been the case and I have now learned my lesson.

"As a result my knee will tell me when I am ready to return, not the other way round."

Sir Bobby Robson appreciates it is a case of playing a waiting game with Bellamy. The Newcastle manager said: "We have to be patient as far as he is concerned and not rush him.

"It's a long-term injury and a slow job. We speak to him every day - but at this moment in time we are not even thinking about a date for his comeback."

Newcastle, meanwhile, have entered into a joint-venture agreement with MGM Mirage, the American-based hotel and gaming giants. The plan, which is subject to conditions - including the deregulation of gaming laws in the United Kingdom - could see commercial and retail outlets, residential apartments, a hotel and a Las Vegas-style casino built next to St James' Park.

The Newcastle chairman, Freddy Shepherd, said: "This is a very exciting opportunity for Newcastle, its people and for Newcastle United Football Club.

"Situated alongside St James' Park, we hope the development will become a focal point for the city of Newcastle and create a vibrant mixed-use development at the heart of the city."

United will receive £5m from MGM Mirage as a result of the partnership, a figure which will have to be repaid if the conditions such as deregulation are not fulfilled within four years.

A former Newcastle coach will lead Congo's squad during the 2004 African Cup of Nations championship as a trial for a permanent position. Michael Wadsworth - who coached the side in 1999 - signed a $50,000 (£31,000) contract with Congo early this month for an initial three-month period, said Kurura Mpova, chairman of Congo's football association.

"We will move on to a permanent contract if the results at the African Cup of Nations are conclusive," said Mpova. The competition is scheduled for 24 January until 14 February in Tunisia.

Wadsworth, 53, is expected to start work in Congo next week.

The former Newcastle and England defender Stuart Pearce's long-term aim is to return to management. Pearce had a brief spell in charge of Nottingham Forest in the 1996/97 season, but is in no rush to give up his present coaching role at Manchester City.

He was recruited by City's manager, Kevin Keegan, at the end of a superb playing career, which included spells at Newcastle, West Ham and City and more than 400 games for Forest with 78 international caps.

Pearce said: "Things haven't changed in the year-and-a-half since I came on the coaching staff. I've got aspirations to work in management. That's never changed since day one.

"The bottom line is I am here [at City] as a coach and I am fully happy."