The first time that Jude Bellingham appeared in society in Valdebebas, one thing was clear: his performance on the field remained to be seen, but his ability to explain himself with ease was more than remarkable despite the fact that he had not yet turned 20. Where a most of his colleagues shrink their bodies, he showed himself relaxed. A half hour that he attracted attention. Perhaps everything can be summed up in a phrase from his coach last season at Dortmund, Edin Terzic: “He is the oldest 19-year-old player in the world.”
There were already testimonies of his maturity and perfectionist desire in his three courses in the German Ruhr Basin. “Jude is the most mature 18-year-old footballer I’ve ever seen,” his former teammate Mats Hummels had previously assured. A personal card that comes out of the Bundesliga garden after three rising seasons and enters the jungle of Madrid. Another ecosystem, the most dangerous place for the most robust nervous systems in the business.
At the moment, and in the absence of the closing of the market at the end of August, Bellingham is the second most expensive signing of the club (103 million plus 30 in variables); the biggest to date in LaLiga in a depressive summer; and the preseason of a team that has worked with another system (4-4-2) has revolved around him, with him at the tip of the diamond in the center of the field, to bring him closer to the area and alleviate the absence -to this day- of a center forward with a starting lineup. After the first rehearsals, Carlo Ancelotti defined him emphatically as a midfielder rather than an inside player. “His main quality of him is the arrival in the area and the movement without the ball. He damages the rival more if he starts from a more advanced position, ”the Italian explained yesterday. “It’s a different role for me,” the Englishman confessed in preseason. The need to fit it in as soon as possible has been a constant in the Italian’s speech.
The coach Paco Herrera (Barcelona, 69 years old) met Bellingham in 2019 at the age of 16 at Birmingham, where he had gone as Pep Clotet’s assistant, and his first impressions pointed in the same direction that they later discovered in Germany: “confidence and maturity”, he indicates on the other end of the phone. “I like to get close to young people and help them. I remember Iago Aspas [dirigió al Celta entre 2010 y 2013]. You had to keep an eye on him and change things, his mentality, because he was a street kid who screwed up every two minutes. But you would go to Bellingham and see him mature. On the field he was not the typical young man worried about not complicating himself and passing it on to a teammate. And outside, in the concentrations, he knew that the protagonists were the veterans and he stayed a little on the sidelines. So I approached him so he wouldn’t commit nonsense, but with him you only needed to talk about football, ”develops Herrera, who had to leave Birmingham at Christmas for a family matter.
“I used to yell at him before games: ‘Jude: tell me [dime]”, recalls the Catalan coach. “And he answered me: ‘No one is better than me’ [Nadie es mejor que yo]. I always told him that so he would understand that, at his age, he could be at the level of the rest. Actually, he was already aware of it”, says Herrera, who points to the family as one of the keys. His father (Mark), a key man in his son’s representation affairs, played until he was 40 in non-professional categories in England and scored more than 700 goals while serving as a police officer.
“No one is better than me,” he yelled at Paco Herrera before each game at Birmingham
In 2019, Agus Medina (Barberà del Vallès, Barcelona; 28 years old) was also there, today at Albacete from Ponferradina. “He always entered forcefully, he hit hard. At 16, that was surprising. He had a great lower body and didn’t lose a ball. He knocked the majority down”, this midfielder comments on Bellingham, whom he saw as a “shy and quiet” boy, an appreciation shared by other people and journalists who agreed with him at that time.
Off the pitch, from that time at Birmingham it is known that he enrolled in a Sociology module (“education develops my concentration [en los partidos]”, he came to affirm) and that he attended at least one workshop on sexual and mental health of the League Football Education (LFE), an association aimed at footballers between 16 and 18 years old, parents and team staff, and where topics such as financial education, LGTBI identities, racism and networks, among others, are also discussed.
His vision of suicide at the age of 16
The corporate magazine spoke with him in 2019, at the age of 16, and even talked about suicide: “The sessions give us knowledge of the real world. You see the number of men who have chosen the path of suicide and we are in a high pressure environment, so being educated about this at a young age is great. It raises awareness, not just for us, but also when we care for those around us. You never know what people are really feeling; It’s good to get that information on how to spot the signs,” said Jude Bellingham, who was exchanging messages with local rapper Jaykae to talk about how to handle the pressure.
After the first month of living together, in Madrid they have seen him “very professional, a boy who listens, contributes and tries to integrate”, according to sources with access to the dressing room. He explained in the presentation that “the easiest thing would have been to go to the Premier”, but he decided to get out of “the comfort zone”. A starter in all the preseason tests, Ancelotti forced to assemble as quickly as possible within a new scheme for everyone, his praised maturity enters from this Saturday in San Mamés in the whirlwind of Madrid, an unknown terrain for him that presents so many chances of glory as traps. The big test for old man Bellingham.
Madrid is tracking the goalkeeper market after the serious injury to Thibaut Courtois (torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee) that will keep him out for a period that, in this type of mishap, is usually less than six months. Since the misfortune of the Belgian goal was known, the club began to analyze possible applicants, situations of each one and their technical profiles. The market closes at the end of August. For now, Carlo Ancelotti, who this Friday in the press room did not deny the option of signing a goalkeeper, did his best to show his confidence in Andriy Lunin, who barely has 17 games in three seasons with Madrid (19 goals conceded). “My confidence is total,” the Italian repeated several times. “He is a talent. The only thing he lacks is experience, like everyone when they start a job, ”he added. Also called up for Bilbao are homegrown players Lucas Cañizares (21 years old) and Fran González (18).
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