Birmingham City last night agreed a £6m fee with Newcastle United to take on the turbulent talents of Craig Bellamy. Once Graeme Souness stated yesterday morning that the Welsh striker would never play for him again, the only question was whether Newcastle could offload him before the transfer window closed on Monday. Otherwise, every week Bellamy sat on the sidelines at St James' Park would have cost Newcastle £45,000 a week.
The Birmingham manager, Steve Bruce, said last night: "We will be having talks with him over the weekend and we hope we can convince him to come to Birmingham City. He is a quality player, quality players don't become available very often and that's why we have made the offer to Newcastle."
Newcastle's chairman, Freddy Shepherd, was determined that a player who had attempted to feign injury and appeared on television accusing his manager, Souness, of lying would not cause any further embarrassment. Neither he nor Souness was prepared to stomach the prospect of Bellamy returning to Tyneside and scoring against the club that still owned his registration. That Birmingham offered Newcastle the full £6m asking price for a player they had no further use for is surprising, although with such limited time Bruce would not want any protracted haggling.
Bellamy would probably have to take a pay cut to join Birmingham - Bruce said yesterday that his wages were the greatest deterrent to his being taken on loan. The only other question is whether Bellamy would consider St Andrews to be a sufficiently grand stage for his talents, although he would be partnering Emile Heskey.
Chances of a reconciliation on Tyneside had all but gone by the time Souness arrived at St James' Park to tell a press conference that while he was manager Bellamy would never play for Newcastle. Souness had also written a scathing attack on the player in his programme notes for this afternoon's FA Cup tie with Coventry. In them he is expected to claim that Bellamy first refused to play out of position under his predecessor Sir Bobby Robson.
"He can't ever play for me again," Souness said. "He can't go on television and accuse me of telling lies. I'm not going to dwell on it, but I think in most walks of life that would be the case. The situation has been addressed regarding Craig Bellamy. It was always going to happen, whether it would be a month or six months. But it's a healthier club now. It's a week we could have done without but we've addressed the problem and dealt with it very well."
Although Bellamy's name will be added to the lengthening list of footballers whose relationship with Souness has broken down beyond repair, it was hard to see what else the Newcastle manager could have done without losing the support of the remaining members of his squad. When told Bellamy would rather pretend to be injured than face Arsenal, one senior Newcastle player had to be physically restrained from punching him.
Had Bellamy remained on Tyneside, training alone, not even appearing in the reserves, he would have remained a focus for discontent. Had Souness' side continued to stumble, if Patrick Kluivert continued to deliver desultory performances for a fee of £67,000 a week, then a section of Newcastle support who have never accepted Souness would start demanding Bellamy's return.
With Alan Shearer due to retire in four months' time and Kluivert's deal up in the summer, Newcastle have just one long-term centre-forward in the shape of Shola Ameobi. Under the circumstances, Souness can be expected to make one final plea for Shearer to play on.
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