How a 20-year-old Englishman fueled Real Madrid’s record-extending La Liga title and became one of the world’s best players

Jude Bellingham celebrated winning his first ever La Liga title with his mother, posting a picture on Instagram of the two hugging with the legendary Santiago Bernabéu Stadium stretching out behind them.

Such an unassuming image is befitting of how the 20-year-old presents himself to the world, how he has impressed in his first year at Real Madrid both on and off the pitch, and how he is praised for his maturity and leadership skills as well as his talent on the pitch.

Underneath the picture, his Real Madrid teammate Rodrygo had commented: “First league of many.”

Already known as one of soccer’s brightest young talents from his time at Borussia Dortmund, Bellingham has cemented his status as one of the sport’s biggest names during his first season at Real Madrid, becoming the star within a team already packed with stars.

The midfielder is now one of the early favorites to take this year’s Ballon d’Or trophy, has become beloved among the Madridistas, and has even perfected his own iconic goalscoring celebration, standing towards the crowd with his arms outstretched, soaking up the applause.

That stance has become a familiar sight in La Liga this season as Bellingham netted an impressive 18 league goals, including late winners in both key El Clásico matches against Barcelona, the first of which was hailed by manager Carlo Ancelotti as the key point in deciding this year’s title race.

“Everyone expected us to slip up and we didn’t slip up,” he told Realmadrid TV. “Bellingham’s goal against Barcelona gave us the advantage. We had a lot of continuity from the first to the last game.”

When Bellingham joined Real Madrid, expectations were high for the young Englishman.

Jude Bellingham celebrates with Real Madrid fans after winning the Champions League quarterfinal against Manchester City. - Molly Darlington/Reuters

The club had just lost its longtime talisman Karim Benzema, missed out on signing Kylian Mbappé once again and was recovering from an underwhelming season – by its own lofty standards – in which it was hammered by Manchester City in the Champions League semifinals and finished 10 points behind Barcelona in the league.

But nobody could have predicted the impact Bellingham had from the very beginning of his time in the Spanish capital. He scored 10 goals in his first 10 games, won La Liga’s player of the month for August and quickly displayed his knack of finding late winners, rescuing Real late on against Getafe in September.

“Jude Bellingham, the complete Galactico,” read a headline from Spanish newspaper Marca in December above an article that compared him to the best elements of other Real Madrid marquee signings like David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane.

It isn’t just his goalscoring that has proven so effective for Real Madrid. He has contributed 10 assists this season, and his influence in the dressing room has been compared to that of Zidane by TNT Sports pundit and former Real Madrid player Steve McManaman. (TNT Sports, like CNN, is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery.)

Despite Bellingham’s fast start to his Real Madrid career, his form dropped off a little from its early heights at the beginning of the season, and he admitted in a press conference in April that an injury and suspension after a red card had affected his “rhythm.”

“My role has changed slightly,” he added. “There’s been little things I’ve had to tweak and it means I’ve had to maybe do a bit more work for the team which I absolutely don’t mind doing but maybe I lose that effectiveness on the pitch.”

Nonetheless, he has still found a way to be effective at crucial points – hitting that injury-time winner against Barcelona in April and producing an impressive cameo appearance against Cádiz on Saturday to show his continuing potency.

“I would say that Madrid feels like home now,” he told CNN’s Amanda Davies in April. “I feel like I have a familiar kind of connection with the fans and the people.
So, yeah, really happy.”

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