The best Brit abroad
Jude Bellingham looks to have a head start on every other footballer in the world to claim the Ballon d'Or trophy in a year's time
Friday, 3 November 2023, 17:54
Friday, 3 November 2023, 17:54
As Lionel Messi looks at his reflection in his eighth Ballon d'Or trophy, the next recipient could well be a young Englishman.
Jude Belllingham has a head start on every other footballer in the world to claim the title in a year's time. His start at Real Madrid was incredible, his first three months were phenomenal; now, he's taken his impact to stratospheric levels.
I've had to discipline myself not to make him the subject of this column every week - as every week he's reached another landmark. Now he's written himself into clásico folklore, I'm afraid I must acknowledge his accomplishments.
In his first 13 games, he's scored 13 goals and weighed in with three assists. Last weekend was the third double of his Real career. He also scored on his debut and grabbed the headlines with match-deciding goals against Celta Vigo, Union Berlin, Braga and now Barcelona. If you handed this story to Hollywood, they'd tell you it's too far-fetched!
The crazy thing is that he's not yet playing to his full potential - he's still learning the ropes. Remember he's only 20 years old. The ideal plan would be to let him settle into the uniquely demanding way of life at the world's biggest club. There is a template in Madrid to sign a talent, drip-feed him matches and allow the player to develop at a natural speed. This happened with Vinicius Júnior and Rodrygo when they arrived from Brazil as well as with the French pair Aurélien Tchouaméni and Edouard Camavinga.
The strategy would be to allow him to learn from the past masters Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Following this logic, the boy from Birmingham should be introduced gradually. When you score on your debut, it's hard to be dropped. When you continually hit match-winning goals, it's impossible to be rested. He even scored and assisted a goal when he headed off on England duty.
Real Madrid wouldn't be top of La Liga, wouldn't have beaten rivals Barcelona, and wouldn't be in a healthy Champions League position without Bellingham. At some point, they need to take him out of the firing line and be less dependent on his superpowers.
On the list of his incredible attributes, scoring goals wasn't close to the top. He is a complete modern footballer. His strength is his midfield athletics - and the great irony is that he hasn't yet reached the standards of his days at Dortmund or in an England shirt generally. He was the first to acknowledge that he didn't put in a total performance against Barça. Well, apart from winning the game single-handedly, that is.
The scary thing is that there's still more to come. He's more than just a goalscorer and scorer of match-winning goals. He can and will take his game to another level.
Given his age, there's bound to be a time soon when he isn't the headline act and he'll need a rest. He's in the right hands as Carlo Ancelotti is the master of man-management.
It's like a reversal of Andy Murray who was British when he won and Scottish when he lost. Bellingham is England's finest right now whilst he's excelling. but may just be a Brit when his performances are normalised.
No doubt about it though, he's the best Brit abroad.
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