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How Will Bellingham Fare At Real Madrid?


How Will Bellingham Fare At Real Madrid?

Real Madrid recently agreed a record-breaking deal with Borussia Dortmund to sign the German club's young midfield star Jude Bellingham.

With the now 20-year-old completing a move to the Spanish giants for an initial fee of £88.5m with various add-ons potentially taking the final transfer fee all the way up to £115m, it means that the deal could go on to break a whole host of records, including making Bellingham the most expensive British footballer of all time and Madrid's most expensive ever purchase.

Bellingham, who has signed a six-year deal with Los Blancos, will now ply his trade at one of European football's most iconic stadiums alongside regular Champions League participation and a shot at Spanish football's top crown. It is a big transfer, and considering how many of the biggest football transfers throughout history have turned out to be huge failures, could this deal be different? So here, we take a quick look at how things might work out for Bellingham in the Spanish capital...

Bellingham swapped St Andrew's for the Signal Iduna Park for £25m in 2020, the deal to take him to Borussia Dortmund making the then 17-year-old the most expensive one in the history of football, and it would turn out to be the perfect career move for the youngster.

Borussia Dortmund's track record of developing young players, allowing the players to acclimatise to top-level football and flourish in a relatively pressure-free environment before eventually selling them on for a hefty profit to bigger and better clubs around Europe, was a model that had worked wonders for many players in the past, and Bellingham was no exemption. His goal on his competitive debut for the club, becoming Dortmund’s youngest-ever goalscorer in any competitive match in the process, was a telling sign that Die Borussen had another star on their hands that would soon go on to earn them a hefty sum of money.

Bellingham finished 2020/21 with four goals and four assists to his name, a DFB-Pokal winners medal, a 2nd-place finish in the Kopa Trophy, and several other records including becoming the youngest Englishman to start a Champions League match.

It was a fine first season in west Germany, and he would build on that in 2021/22 by maintaining and then improving upon those already stellar performances. That showed in his improved goal contribution tally, with the midfielder scoring six and assisting 14 times that season.

His third and final season in Germany saw him make 42 appearances in all competitions, and his 14 goals and seven assists helped Dortmund mount a surprise Bundesliga title push. They ultimately dropped points at Mainz on the final day to cede the title to regular winners Bayern Munich in heartbreaking fashion, and Bellingham's absence on the day through a knee injury, was telling.

The 20-year-old’s calm and composed performances in the centre of the park had transmitted to those around him throughout the season, but with his absence, the nerves showed and that among other crucial incidents that day, meant that Dortmund threw away the title.

But, Bellingham's stellar body of work, aided by his magnificent showing at the mid-season World Cup, had seen chatter emerge in the press throughout the season that Europe's “super clubs” were circling and were intent on making a move for the player in the summer. Real Madrid seemed the likely destination for the young man, and Bellingham made the move to Los Blancos official in June after months of negotiations.

So, Where Will Bellingham fit in?

Bellingham does his best work as a box-to-box midfielder, but the question of where he will fit in is somewhat of a tough question to answer considering the club he has just joined.

That is because of the fact that Madrid are absolutely stacked in midfield already – they still have the veteran duo of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos on the books, while younger stars such as Federico Valverde, Eduardo Camavinga, and to a slightly lesser extent, Aurelien Tchouameni, are all established first-teamers.

Madrid already have a fantastic blend of youth and experience in the centre of the pitch, so with the addition of Bellingham in mind, is the starlet actually a guaranteed starter?

He surely would have been given assurances over playing time by Carlo Ancelotti before joining, especially considering the money involved in the deal, but it will be hard to displace Modric or Kroos. However, even if playing time isn't fully guaranteed this season, it almost certainly will be the season after.

Because of how invaluable Luka Modric and Toni Kroos are to the side in addition to the fact that there are only two spaces for a central midfielder in Madrid's current 4-3-3 formation excluding whoever plays as the holding midfielder, a likely plan is perhaps for Bellingham to undertake more of a rotation-option role in the squad while spending the season learning from the experienced Modric and Kroos, whose wealth of knowledge after years of playing at the highest levels of the sport will be invaluable for Bellingham despite his already obvious talents.

Real have enough quality already present in their ranks to allow Bellingham somewhat of an adaptation period this year, and then the season afterwards, he could then become a fully-fledged starter. But whatever position he does end up playing in the side, Bellingham has the attributes and versatility to play there at a high level.

His former youth team coach at Birmingham, Mike Dodds, once said in an interview that Bellingham had worn the number 22 shirt for club and country due to his ability to thrive in either the number #4, #8 or #10 role - add those three numbers together, and you get 22.

While Bellingham does still lack the ability of a Modric or Kroos in terms of controlling a game and dictating tempo at a world-class level, Bellingham is much more dynamic in terms of how hard he works in midfield in comparison – his rate of tackling, interceptions, blocks and aerial duels won per 90 are higher than Modric or Kroos, while he puts up similar numbers to the pair in metrics such as the amount of shot-creating actions per 90 or assists per 90, while also possessing great numbers in other key statistics such as progressive carries and touches per 90.

The numbers paint a picture of an all-action player who is willing to get stuck in but still retains an aura of class, composure and clear quality while on the pitch. So, where will he play? Bellingham will most likely slot in as one of the two number 8’s in the three-man Madrid midfield, but Carlo Ancelotti could also call on him to play either deeper or in a more advanced position if there is ever an injury crisis or a change in system.

While unlikely considering the transfer fee and his talent, Bellingham could find a regular starting berth hard to come by in 2023/24 as he may need time to bed in at Real Madrid alongside Carlo Ancelotti’s faith in Modric and Kroos – remember, Eduardo Camavinga has spent periods of time in his Real Madrid career playing at left-back, partly because the Frenchman has found it hard to topple the hold that the pair had on the midfield starting spots despite his obvious quality – while Bellingham could also be used in a variety of positions as Ancelotti tries to figure out what his best XI is after yet another midfield addition to contend with.

It may not turn out to be the easiest of seasons for Bellingham in a Madrid side that is looking to bounce back both domestically and in Europe after poor performances in both last season, but his sheer talent combined with Madrid’s evolving squad and Ancelotti’s management means that it is the right career move for him and will see him through what may be a tough first campaign.

How have English players previously got on in the Spanish capital?

By joining Real Madrid, Jude Bellingham becomes just the sixth English footballer to have done so. He joins an illustrious list of names that includes greats such as David Beckham and Michael Owen, with the trio of Laurie Cunningham, Steve McManaman and Jonathan Woodgate making up the remaining spaces on the list. English players have, on the whole, fared well at the Bernabeu, with only Jonathan Woodgate the only certifiable failure of the group.

Michael Owen only spent a season in Spain and despite not winning any silverware, still left with a very respectable 16 goals in 45 outings and earned Madrid double what they paid for him when he left for Newcastle. Beckham’s trophy haul was also disappointing during his time with Los Blancos, picking up just one La Liga title and one Supercopa de Espana, but crucially, he left with the adoration of the fans.

Both Steve McManaman and Laurie Cunningham are arguably legends of the club – McManaman won two La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues, the UEFA Super Cup and the Supercopa de Espana during his time at the club, with his goal and overall performance in the 2000 Champions League final making him arguably more revered in Spain than in his native England.

Cunningham won two Copa del Reys and La Liga in 1980 during his stint in the Spanish capital, with the highlight of his stay in Spain arguably being when he received a standing ovation from Barcelona fans at the Camp Nou during Madrid’s 2-0 El Clasico win there in 1980.

So Bellingham is in good company historically. His talent in tandem with the fine squad-building that Real Madrid have done in picking up some of the best up-and-coming players that will transform into future superstars to revitalise what had been a stagnating squad, being managed by a top manager in Carlo Ancelotti, means that he is in a good environment.

Do not be surprised to see him recreate the achievements of someone like a Steve McManaman, who wrote his name into the history of the club by winning the trophies that matter the most to Madridistas. We will likely be putting Jude Bellingham in similar conversations in perhaps just a few years.