There are few transformations in sport that can match the way Craig Bellamy has turned from a foul-mouthed rebel to a charmingly passionate footballer who has dedicated the twilight of his career to making history with his hometown club Cardiff City.
It is ironic that Bellamy has matured into an inspirational character and proved that people can change, just like the club he supports has reinvented itself and swapped its colours in the process of claiming a glorious promotion to the Premier League.
When Bellamy completed his return to Cardiff last summer he said taking his boyhood heroes to the top flight would be his greatest achievement. The way Bellamy has played such a pivotal role in making that dream become a reality crowns a fairytale promotion for the Bluebirds, who last played in the top league in 1962.
Promotion for Malky Mackay’s Cardiff comes 53 years to the day since they last won a place in the elite of English football. It completes a remarkable transformation for a club that controversially rebranded from blue shirts to red before the start of this promotion winning campaign.
Malaysian owner Vincent Tan has even suggested he may change the club’s name to Cardiff Dragons in his quest to maximise marketing and revenue potential back in Asia, where red is deemed a lucky colour and dragons are regarded as more impressive than bluebirds.
There is something quite poetic about the way Cardiff’s success in changing their identity and their fortunes is mirrored by the impressive way Bellamy has changed his own character and his image.
Back in 2005 we saw the worst of Bellamy when he sent abusive text messages to Alan Shearer after Newcastle’s FA Cup semi-final defeat by Manchester United. Bellamy was on loan from the Magpies at Celtic at the time and was universally shunned for insulting the Geordie legend.
For years the Welsh international divided opinion throughout a colourful and controversial career that took him from Newcastle and Celtic to Manchester City and Liverpool. His regular bouts of surly arrogance often overshadowed his undoubted talent and he did himself no favours when he infamously confronted Liverpool team-mate John Arne Riise with a golf club.
But there is another side to Bellamy, who has dedicated much of his time in recent years to his charity work with the Craig Bellamy Foundation, which educates disadvantaged youngsters through a football academy in Sierra Leone. Cardiff fans have seen the best of the Welshman who first caused genuine disbelief in 2010 when he started his campaign to get his hometown club promoted and initially went there on loan from Manchester City.
Three years later Cardiff City’s promotion remarkably means that 10 percent of the Premier League is now Welsh. Rivals Swansea having also celebrated this season by winning the Capital One Cup at Wembley.
Meanwhile, Bellamy’s reformation has coincided with a change in lifestyle influenced by Dr Steve Peters, author of mind-management book The Chimp Paradox, who helped the 33 year-old come to terms with the death of his friend and mentor Gary Speed.