THERE comes a time when the integrity of a football club must be put before the need to placate a talented individual and, despite all of Craig Bellamy's undoubted ability, that time is now.

If Newcastle United is to retain any semblance of dignity and respect, Bellamy must be severely sanctioned for his conduct over the last four days.

Even a contrite apology and promise to make amends in the future might not be enough.

After publicly accusing his manager of lying, it is difficult to see how Bellamy can ever play under Graeme Souness again.

The alternative is to accept that players can do whatever they like, whenever they like, and to leave a manager installed specifically to enforce discipline as a neutered puppet unable to counter the rising wave of player power.

Despite Freddy Shepherd's initial attempts to placate both parties, it is safe to assume that one of the two main protagonists will be ushered out of St James' Park before the end of the month.

And, after the United chairman publicly accused Bellamy of "cheating the club", it is even safer to assume that will not be Souness.

Bellamy has had his run-ins with the club before. He famously hurled a chair at John Carver in the departure lounge of Newcastle Airport last season and launched a volley of obscenities in Souness' direction after being substituted at Charlton in October.

On each occasion he escaped with a mild censure, but the sensitive nature of this weekend's dispute and the level of vitriol which manager and player have directed at each other makes any notion of a kiss and make up unlikely in the extreme.

Even Newcastle's fans - so supportive of Bellamy's fiery temperament in the past - seem to accept that he has gone too far this time.

Not only is the player accused of brandishing both the club and its manager "rubbish", he has admitted to threatening to feign injury rather than play out of position.

The fans' treatment of Kieron Dyer has shown how dimly they view that aberration, and Bellamy would be assured of an even hotter reception were he to take the field against his former club Coventry this weekend.

Shepherd's comments make that scenario extremely unlikely and, instead, Bellamy is set to continue his career away from Tyneside.

In the short term, Newcastle will suffer from losing Bellamy's pace and desire.

No other player runs opposition defences ragged in the way that he does.

But, in the long term, re-establishing managerial pre-eminence and showing that dissent and petulance will not be tolerated will be worth so much more.

For far too long now, anything that Newcastle's players have achieved on the pitch has been over-shadowed by salacious rumours of what they have been getting up to off it.

If Shepherd and Souness are serious about wanting to turn over a new leaf, they will have no better chance of making a stand.

Perhaps then, Newcastle United can return to being a football club rather than a backdrop for chaos and controversy.

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