Almost 4 years ago to the day, then Birmingham City manager, Pep Clotet, brought on a teenager called Jude Bellingham. This weekend, Bellingham scored the winner for Real Madrid, securing 3 points for his side and adding to his growing reputation. Jefferson Montero’s injury in 2019 gave Bellingham his first chance at Birmingham City, he has taken every opportunity since.
On his home Birmingham debut, the Blues were losing 1-0 after 58 minutes, before pulling a goal back from the evergreen Lukas Jutkiewicz. Then in the 76th minute, Bellingham, via a deflected shot, scored the winning goal. The crowd at St. Andrews’ went wild, feting their new homegrown star.
After the game, Clotet praised Bellingham’s maturity and his performance. Bellingham told the BBC, “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a boy, scoring in front of the Tilton for my club. I’ve done it and it feels amazing but I’m very hungry for more. I’ve loved the club since I joined when I was seven. I can’t wait to give them more of what I’ve got.”
There was a real buzz around Birmingham around Bellingham. They thought they had found the best talent since the Million Pound Man, Trevor Francis. Francis left Birmingham for a record-breaking fee of £1 million in 1979. Many at the club felt Bellingham could set a similar record in time.
Most expensive 17 Year Old Ever
It was clear right away that Bellingham was at a level above the Championship in England and, inevitably, Europe’s biggest clubs registered an interest in him. On the 20th July 2020, less than a year after scoring his first goal for Birmingham, he joined Borussia Dortmund, becoming the world’s most expensive 17 year old in the process.
Upon the announcement of his departure, Birmingham City announced that they would retire the number 22 shirt, as a tribute to Bellingham’s time at the club. This was met with derision and cynicism in some quarters, given the honour is usually reserved for club stalwarts. But the club could see Bellingham’s trajectory and knew what he could achieve. In an era where Birmingham City are seemingly stuck in the Championship, he is a different kind of icon. Sculpted by the club, then set free.
Inevitably, Bellingham scored on his Dortmund debut. His time in the famous yellow and black was another huge success, with Bellingham producing a string of performances which belied his age. In 2022, Bellingham became Dortmund’s youngest every captain, aged just 19. He had already made his England senior debut at this point and scored his first international goal during the 2022 World Cup.
A new Galactico at Madrid
Borussia Dortmund is a club with a reputation for developing and selling on its best talent, and Bellingham’s meteoric rise made it inevitable that he would also break the hearts of Dortmund fans. His transfer to Real Madrid in June 2023 meant Bellingham had reached his level – the very top of European football.
Great players, with more experience than Bellingham, have joined Real Madrid and been crushed by the weight of the shirt. Looking through the experiences of English players who have played at the Bernabeu in the past tells us this.
David Beckham joined as England captain but struggled in a team of Galacticos. He only showed his best form in his final season, after he had agreed his move to LA Galaxy. Michael Owen had some success, but only stayed in Madrid for one season, scoring 16 goals. Jonathan Woodgate would forgive me for not delving into the red card and own goal on his debut.
So far, Jude Bellingham has had no such issues in settling in. On his La Liga debut for Real Madrid, Bellingham scored and won the player of the match award. In his second game, away at Almeria, he scored twice, got one assist and won player of the match again. In his third game, this time away at Celta Vigo, he scored an 81st minute winner and, you guessed it, won player of the match. His home debut at the Bernabeu is next, against Getafe. The excitement felt by Birmingham fans in 2019 is now being shared by the Real Madrid fans, eagerly anticipating their first glimpse of this supremely talented player.
The new Zizou?
Bellingham now wears the number 5 shirt, famously worn by Zinedine Zidane for so many years at Real Madrid. Zidane broke the world record for a transfer fee when he joined Madrid at the age of 29. Bellingham is just 20 and the £88.5 million fee they paid for him will be remembered as a bargain. A great deal in an era where astronomical fees are regularly exchanged for players with less ability.
Birmingham City fans will look on at Bellingham’s career with pride knowing that they played a crucial part in his development. In my opinion, he is the best midfielder in the world, arguably the best player in the world. Madrid fans are already talking of him as a future captain. The burden of sharing Zidane’s number is not weighing him down.
His dream will be to win the Champions League in the white of Madrid. Birmingham fans will dream that maybe, at the end of his career, they can bring the 22 out of retirement and see him run out at St. Andrews’ again. This time with Bellingham as a returning hero. No longer than the fresh-faced teenager who left them to conquer the world.