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Page last updated at 06:58 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

How Bellion bounced back

David Bellion
Bellion struggled at Manchester United but has flourished back in France

By Chris Bevan

He is remembered at Manchester United as one of Sir Alex Ferguson's least successful buys, and at West Ham he was so unwanted he "felt like a ghost".

But it is clear from talking to Bordeaux striker David Bellion ahead of Wednesday's crunch Champions League match with Chelsea that his time in English football was the making of him.

Once regarded as his hero Thierry Henry's natural successor in the France team, Bellion followed Zinedine Zidane and Patrick Vieira out of Cannes' successful academy and seemed destined for the very top.

However, following a move to Sunderland as an 18-year-old in 2001, Bellion's career faltered when he switched to Old Trafford in 2003.

Do I look back with regret? Never ever. If I had to start my career again, I would do the same things

Bordeaux's ex-Man Utd striker David Bellion

He started only five Premier League matches in three years with Manchester United and his final act on these shores was a short stint at Upton Park, where Bellion alleges he was virtually ignored by then Hammers manager Alan Pardew.

It would be easy for him to be bitter about his lack of opportunity but instead Bellion speaks earnestly about what he learnt through adversity.

"It was a difficult time but in difficult times you grow up as well," Bellion told BBC Sport. "To make yourself as a man, you need to go through things like that.

"Do I look back with regret? Never ever. And if I had to start my career again, I would do the same things. I matured a lot when I was in England and that was a good experience."

Sir Alex Ferguson and David Bellion
Ferguson fought off Liverpool and Arsenal to sign Bellion in 2003

Following his exit from United in 2006, Bellion rebuilt his reputation in his homeland with Nice before joining Les Girondins in 2007, scoring 14 goals in 28 games to help Laurent Blanc's side finish second in Ligue 1 last season.

Bellion remains an avid watcher of Premier League football but there are few in this country who have followed his progress since he left United.

One notable exception, however, is United manager Ferguson, who sent him a letter telling him to "keep going" during his time at Nice and who has since phoned the forward to offer similar encouragement.

"Those are the kind of things that make a great manager and maybe a great man," enthused Bellion, who still refers to Ferguson as his "gaffer".

"He is class - a gentleman. To some coaches, when you leave their club you are gone completely but he looks out for all the players who have been with him.

"For me, to receive that letter after a small spell at United was a great honour for me. It maybe means nothing to him but it means a lot for me - he had not forgotten me."

Now Bellion has a chance to remind us why Ferguson once fought off Liverpool and Arsenal to secure the player's signature when he leads Bordeaux's front line against an in-form Chelsea side.

While it is not quite winner takes all at Stade Chaban-Delmas, neither side can afford to lose as they look to escape a very tight Group A that also includes Roma and CFR Cluj.

"Chelsea are one of the biggest clubs in the world but we are confident and very excited," added Bellion. "It is going to be very, very hard but with so much at stake it is a fantastic game to be playing in."

Bordeaux were thumped 4-0 when they met the Blues at Stamford Bridge in September but Bellion is sure his side, which includes highly rated midfielder Yoann Gourcuff, will offer more of a threat this time.

"It was a non-game for us in London," conceded Bellion, who turns 26 the day after Bordeaux host Chelsea. "They dominated us from the first minute to the end of the match.

David Bellion
Bellion scored 14 goals in 28 league games for Bordeaux last season

"This time we have to be clever, tactically. We may have to be patient but, with the quality we have, we are going to try to do something this time, although of course there is a difference between a team like Chelsea and Bordeaux in every department."

If the Blues are beaten, then Ferguson would no doubt approve - and Bellion would welcome the chance to do his old manager a favour, even if the Scot hardly played him during his time with United.

"Sometimes, when players don't play they think the coach is unhappy with them but he always made me believe in myself and to try harder, even if I didn't play," explained Bellion.

"I will always respect him for the way he spoke to me and what he did for me. He gave me a chance.

"I am being honest. If I didn't appreciate somebody I would say but I really appreciate the gaffer."

If Bellion cherishes his time with Ferguson it is clear he does not remember playing for Pardew - who was sacked by Charlton this weekend - quite so fondly.

"That was maybe the only dark spot in my career," said Bellion. "Not because I went to West Ham but because I broke my leg just before signing on loan so it was a very difficult time.

We have a team where we play two-touch football and so I don't do the things I did before. Well, sometimes I do but I am trying to be more effective for the team

David Bellion on his playing style

"I can understand why I wasn't playing because the team was doing well but at the same time I didn't know what I was doing there. I felt like a ghost because the manager didn't speak to me.

"It was very difficult but that is now three years ago and I can look back and understand the situation but it was weird, really weird."

What is not surprising is that Bellion has bounced back. As a teenager at Sunderland he kept a football in his kitchen to hone his skills whenever possible and he has retained that early determination.

He also still has the pace and athletic ability that made him a junior sprint and high jump champion on the Cote d'Azur and now, after two years playing regularly in France, he has regained his confidence too.

"Sir Alex told me I needed to go on loan more to play and I wanted to go as well," Bellion said of his departure from English football. "I could have stayed another two years until the end of my United contract but I had lost too much football.

"I could have stayed in England if I wanted but sometimes you don't have to take the easy solution. I had never played first-team football in France so it was good to come back to try the French League.

Rio Ferdinand congratulates David Bellion after his goal against Everton in December 2003
Bellion scored eight goals for Man Utd but most of his appearances came off the bench

"At the same time, I went home. I grew up in Cannes and Nice is only a 20-minute drive away. After a hard time I needed to be near my friends and family to have more energy to play and this is what happened.

"I went to Nice for a little bit and then I went to a big club in France so I am really happy."

After his goalscoring exploits last season, Bellion has featured slightly less frequently this term, thanks to Blanc's squad-rotation system, but he is content with life on the Garonne river and feels his maturity off the pitch is reflected by his play on it.

"As you get older you change the way you play," added Bellion, the son of a Paris architect.

"When I was young I was very wild and not very tactical. I was always taking on players.

"Now we have a team where we play two-touch football and so I don't do the things I did before. Well, sometimes I do but I am trying to be more effective for the team. When we are performing well then you can add a little more craziness to your play."

If Bellion keeps scoring, the English scouts that spotted him seven years ago are sure to notice again. So, does a move back to the Premier League appeal? Not at the moment, it seems.

"I am happy and my ambitions are with Bordeaux - to qualify for the next round of the Champions League and have a good season," he insisted.

"In football I have moved around. You need to find a balance, stay somewhere longer and try to make your mark."

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see also
Bordeaux v Chelsea
25 Nov 08 |  Europe
Chelsea 4-0 Bordeaux
16 Sep 08 |  Europe
Pardew and Charlton part company
22 Nov 08 |  Charlton
West Ham clinch Bellion loan deal
17 Aug 05 |  West Ham
Bellion injury blow for Man Utd
12 May 05 |  Man Utd
Man Utd 1-0 Arsenal
01 Dec 04 |  League Cup
Man Utd agree Bellion fee
16 Oct 03 |  Sunderland
Bellion joins Man Utd
01 Jul 03 |  Man Utd
Bellion unsure on future
28 Mar 03 |  Sunderland
Sunderland reignite Bellion row
11 Feb 03 |  Sunderland
Sunderland fight for Bellion
08 Jan 03 |  Man Utd
Reid signs teenage striker
03 Jul 01 |  Sunderland

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