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Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

Jude Bellingham: The evolution of Real Madrid’s ex-Birmingham and Borussia Dortmund midfielder

By Vaseline May31,2024

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Jude Bellingham wants to beat his old team in the Champions League final

  • Author, Ryan Baldi
  • Role, BBC Sports

Jude Bellingham has already led Real Madrid to a La Liga title this season and could still be key in the club’s quest to become champions of Europe for a 15th time when they take on his former club Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League final at Wembley on June 1. .

Then it’s on to the European Championship, where he will lead England’s hopes of a first major trophy in 58 years. He’s a Ballon d’Or front-runner, one of Spain’s most prolific goalscorers and a prized talent domestically – all at the age of 20.

Yet Bellingham’s playing has already undergone several stylistic evolutions.

The playmaker

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Jude Bellingham (centre) scored on his home debut for Birmingham against Stoke at the age of 16

After joining his boyhood club as a seven-year-old, Bellingham quickly progressed through Birmingham City’s academy and made his first-team debut at just 16 years and 38 days, becoming their youngest ever player.

He played a full season for Birmingham, making 41 appearances in the Championship and scoring four goals, before signing for Borussia Dortmund for £25 million in the summer of 2020.

When he left, Birmingham retired the number 22 shirt the teenager had worn after his breakthrough. It was a number he would wear again in Germany and was of particular importance to the midfielder’s development.

As Bellingham worked with the youth coaches within Birmingham’s academy, they wanted his game to include elements of a defensive midfielder (traditionally a number four in English football), a box-to-box number eight and a creative number 10. Add all three together, you get number 22.

This provided a versatility that served Bellingham well after his breakthrough at St. Andrew’s.

“When he went into the Birmingham first team he played wide,” former Birmingham left-back Paul Robinson, who coached the young Bellingham at the club, told BBC Sport.

“He played wide right, he played wide left. For his development he had the qualities to play in different positions higher up the field. Jude was always able to do that thanks to his brain.”

Most of the time, however, the Stourbridge-born star played as a deep central midfielder, dictating play in the center of the pitch. His combined average of 4.01 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes that season remains a career high.

“When he was 15, 16, his position was number six. He could get on the ball and dictate games with his quality of passing,” Robinson added. “I have never seen someone so young who is so intelligent in understanding the game.”

Bellingham also worked on aspects of his game that, four years later, are now paying off at Real Madrid.

“You could see the chops he’s doing now, going from right to left and coming back on himself,” Robinson said. “He still does that. He feels comfortable with that and he knows it works.

“The biggest thing I noticed with Jude was that he couldn’t really head the ball. So we worked on it with crosses and worked on his timing, getting into the box and getting headers. And when you see him now with what he does it , he’s on autopilot – he knows what to do and he just does it.”

The powerhouse

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Jude Bellingham played for Borussia Dortmund for three seasons

Bellingham arrived at Dortmund as a 17-year-old with just one season of senior football under his belt, but the Englishman impressed his new teammates with his technique and physicality.

“He had a lot of self-confidence,” says former Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki. “You could see from the first training that he was not afraid to compete and show his qualities and mentality. It was clear from the start that this is a man who is very good for our team.

“He was very young when he came to us. He gained experience very quickly because he played almost every game. I think he has improved a little bit in his decision-making and also in his personality.”

Initially, Bellingham was deployed in a similar role to the one he excelled in at Birmingham, as a deep-lying playmaker. But gradually he took on more of a box-to-box role at Signal Iduna Park.

As he became more of an attacking force, his average for shot-creating actions per 90 increased – from 2.06 in his first season in Germany to 3.35 in 2021-2022 and finally 4.18 in 2022-2023. His ability to drive forward from midfield is reflected in his progressive carries average (defined as each time a player carries the ball forward 10 yards or more, or into the opponent’s penalty area), which increases over the same period from 1.48 per 90 to 2.52 and then 3.24.

“Initially we had him more as a number six because of his physicality and his ability to win important games,” Burki remembers. “And he was also very good with the ball. Now he plays more on the attacking side than on the defensive side.

“I didn’t expect that. But from the quality he had, the mentality, you could see he was something special.”

The final stage of his development at Dortmund was adding goals to his game. In the 90 appearances he made in his first two seasons at the club, he had scored 10 goals. He played 42 games for BVB last season and scored 14 times.

“It didn’t surprise me because he was always very good at finishing,” Burki says. “He was more precise, did not try to score with force. He put the ball in the corner. With his technique, physique and mentality, it does not surprise me that he is also very good at scoring goals.”

The poacher

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Jude Bellingham scored a late winner in both Clasicos against Barcelona this season

Despite his improved scoring efforts in his final season with Dortmund, few could have anticipated just how productive Bellingham would be for Real Madrid this season.

Since signing for Los Blancos last summer on an £88.5million contract, the England superstar has scored 23 goals in 41 games. He is the third highest scorer in La Liga, with 19 goals – more than Robert Lewandowski, Antoine Griezmann and Alvaro Morata.

Bellingham’s average of 0.77 goals per 90 this season is a huge improvement on his previous high at Dortmund of 0.27. His expected goals average of 0.45 per 90 is an increase from 0.27 in his last Bundesliga campaign.

“He hinted at that at Dortmund because they pushed him into a more advanced role over time,” says European football expert Andy Brassell of Bellingham’s unparalleled scoring record in Spain. “But to score goals at such a level was probably something even he didn’t expect.

“The positioning is certainly important. He plays as number 10 or sometimes even higher for Madrid. They sometimes play without an orthodox striker, which puts him behind two ‘attackers’, Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr., who tend to move.” wide, creating central space for him.”

If there is any criticism of Bellingham’s performances for Madrid this season, it is that his scoring has dropped slightly since the turn of the year, with just six goals so far in 2024, and he has not made as big an impact as he has expected in the competition. the biggest Champions League matches. But Brassell believes these experiences will aid his progress in the long term.

“It’s something Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo went through when they were questioned: could they do that consistently in the biggest games?” he says.

“Bellingham is going through that right now and I think sensible people will look back on this time and realize that it helped build him up and make him even more resilient, and helped him figure out how to deal with the fact that he is an important player and an outspoken man.”

Whether his performances continue or he settles back into a deeper midfield role following the expected arrival of Kylian Mbappé next season, Bellingham has already established himself as an icon at the Bernabéu and will be the foundation of any success Madrid have in the will enjoy in the near future.

“His mentality to be the best is what will continue to drive him,” Robinson added. “He will want to be the best player in the world.”

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