Craig Bellamy’s career has taken more than a few twists and turns – but a move into management would be the most surprising of the lot.
City’s Welsh dangerman has already been considered for a player-coach role at Cardiff next season.
And after the Bluebirds sacked former Stockport boss Dave Jones on Monday, Bellamy has become the early favourite to take on the manager’s job.
It sounds almost too absurd to be possible. Bellamy, remember, is the man who was once described by the late Sir Bobby Robson as a ‘nightmare’ to manage.
Could he really end up as a boss himself? In truth, some kind of coaching role alongside his playing duties would be more likely – assuming Cardiff could strike a deal with the Blues to take him back to south Wales.
There is only one manager in the top four divisions who is younger than Bellamy, who turns 32 in July, and that is Karl Robinson at League One side MK Dons.
With respect to Robinson, managing Cardiff is a far more intense experience – big expectations, large catchment area, hungry local media. It’s no place for a rookie manager. Bellamy is wise enough to realise that.
All the same, a coaching role might appeal to him if it offers a way to return to Cardiff, where he has just completed a season on loan from City. Given a completely free hand, Bellamy would love to start next season in south Wales.
For one thing, he would be right at home. The striker’s family remained based just outside the Welsh capital as Bellamy spent 15 years pursuing his career all over the UK, at Norwich, Coventry, Newcastle, Celtic, Blackburn, Liverpool, West Ham and City.
He has made no secret of the fact that the lengthy periods of separation from his wife Claire and their three children was often hard to bear.
That was the main reason that a loan move to Cardiff last summer appealed to him so much, even though it meant dropping down to the Championship.
For the first time since he was a teenager, Bellamy could be home from training in 10 minutes and see his loved ones.
But Cardiff were only able to take on the player thanks to the generosity of City, who continued to pay around two-thirds of his £95,000-a-week wages during his season-long loan stint.
There is no prospect of that arrangement being extended for another season – and it means Bellamy is at a crossroads.
He has one year left on the City contract he signed in January 2009 so, as things stand, he will be expected to report at Carrington for pre-season training in early July.
But he knows he has no first-team future at Eastlands after failing to see eye-to-eye with manager Roberto Mancini. And, in any case, it would be in the Blues’ interests to move on such a highly-paid fringe player as they bid to trim losses in order to comply with UEFA’s new rules on football finance.
Bellamy, then, is heading for the City exit door, as he has been since the first couple of months of Mancini’s reign.
His future lies elsewhere, and with it will come a significant pay cut. Judging by the noises he has been making lately, though, that will not be a stumbling block.
Just last week, Bellamy intimated to sources in south Wales that he was ready to play for free at Cardiff next season in a bid to help them into the Premier League.
He was devastated that the Bluebirds’ bid to reach the top flight this year fell apart towards the end of the season and ended in play-off defeat at the hands of Reading.
He would like to go back and finish the job of getting Cardiff up.
Before Jones’ sacking was confirmed on Monday, Bellamy was ready to consider returning to play only for a package of promotion bonuses written into a contract. A source close to Bellamy said: “Craig’s future is still up in the air.
“But he really enjoyed the way he was treated by the Cardiff fans and is desperate to give them Premier League football in return.”
The Bluebirds’ Malaysian owners are having to do some financial juggling of their own at the moment after missing out on a £90m Premier League promotion jackpot – a failure made all the more galling by the fact that hated rivals Swansea grabbed it instead.
Bellamy will, inevitably, have other options. Sunderland ruled out a move for him last week but Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp’s long-standing interest in the striker is still there.
A move abroad is also a possibility, with Turkish club Galatasaray in the frame.
Bellamy has made it clear, though, that his heart is in Cardiff. The Bluebirds certainly need him as they try to start afresh after a season of disappointment.
And it may just be that they decide they need him off the pitch as well as on it.