Jude Bellingham has already eclipsed David Beckham at Real Madrid

Jude Bellingham celebrates

There are two claims about Jude Bellingham that highlight the extraordinary impact he has had at Real Madrid.

The first is that it has helped the club and its supporters forget about the shock departure of the then reigning Ballon d’Or winner and captain Karim Benzema, who suddenly quit last summer. The second is that he has already had a greater effect than David Beckham.

There are more, of course, with Bellingham having integrated astonishingly well into an exciting young squad at the most scrutinised club in the world and quickly emerged as one of its leaders. Then there is the traditional Spanish suspicion of British players and how they behave both on and off the pitch. Even though he is still just 20 and in his first campaign in Madrid, Bellingham has changed that.

And for Bellingham and his family it was always Madrid when it came to leaving Borussia Dortmund last year. He faces Manchester City in the Champions League quarter-final knowing that Pep Guardiola was desperate to sign him. So desperate, acknowledging he is a generational talent, that Guardiola was prepared to lose Ilkay Gundogan, whose contract was allowed to run down, and would have accepted selling Bernardo Silva to help fund a deal.

But then every leading club wanted Bellingham: Liverpool – who saw him as a new Steven Gerrard – Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Paris St-Germain, Barcelona. The list went on. But there was never anyone else but Madrid for him.

“I knew it was the perfect partnership – him and Madrid,” says Pep Clotet, the Spanish former manager of Birmingham City who gave Bellingham his debut in August 2019 and has tracked his career closely.

“Because Madrid could give to Jude what he needed. He was already a very complete player but he just needed to go to a place where the goal was to win every game. To become a winner. To become a proper champion. And I think Madrid has given him that.”

It is Clotet who makes the Benzema comparison with Madrid left in a tricky situation after their legendary striker – with 353 goals in 647 games and 14 trophies – suddenly accepted an offer to move to the Saudi Pro-League.

It necessitated a change of system at Madrid with coach Carlo Ancelotti using Bellingham in a more advanced role which he has repaid spectacularly. He is the joint top-scorer in La Liga, with 16 goals and was the first player in the league to reach double figures for goals and assists while basically remaining a midfielder. He has shouldered a huge amount of responsibility.

“Madrid had a fantastic striker in Karim Benzema. Now we all forget about him leaving because of Jude’s contribution,” Clotet argues.

“The pressure is really strong. The stadium is full. They don’t accept second chances in Madrid. And remember that here in Spain, and this is one of the things that I told Jude in Madrid, they do not have a history of good relationships between English players and Spanish football.

“Some players in the past have not lived up to what we expected. Some have – like Beckham, he was fantastic. So that was going to be pressure on Jude because people were wondering ‘we don’t know how it’s going to be’ and Jude changed all that. He changed it all.”

Beckham’s legacy is also something that football intermediary Kenneth Asquez, who works extensively in Spain as well as the Premier League, picks up on.

“His impact has been massive. Huge,” Asquez says. “It has been on a level with David Beckham when he arrived. But Beckham was more from a world-wide media and marketing point of view. Beckham was a great player but technically he is not as good as Bellingham. Beckham also arrived in a Madrid side that was on the crest of a big wave. Bellingham is in a team that is being re-built.”

Asquez also agrees with Clotet that Bellingham has “broken down a lot of suspicion that there can be in Spain towards British players”. This was fuelled by the relative failure of Michael Owen and Jonathan Woodgate at Madrid and also – despite five Champions League and three league titles – the belief that Gareth Bale refused to integrate.

Bellingham is, undoubtedly, hugely popular. He has a natural charisma and an easy ability to interact with fans. “You can see that in small stuff but things that are important: he can speak a little Spanish, he does not drive a flashy car, sometimes he arrives at training in a taxi,” Asquez says. “He has integrated 100 per cent and that is also obvious in social media. He is already part of the group.”

Jude Bellingham has already eclipsed David Beckham at Real Madrid
Bellingham has already outscored his fellow Britons in his first season at Real Madrid - Thomas Coex/Getty Images

That is evident in Bellingham’s interactions with his team-mates – on the pitch, in training and on social media (he operates his own accounts). For example, Brahim Díaz, the Spanish-born Morocco international who has helped Bellingham learn the language, has talked about how much he admires him and even copied the iconic open-arm celebration after scoring the winning goal in the first leg of the last-16 Champions League tie against RB Leipzig. “Oh my god Brahim!!!” Bellingham posted on X in response.

His No 5 shirt – the number chosen in honour of Zinedine Zidane who he had studied on YouTube – is Madrid’s biggest seller this season. By a long way. Bellingham’s importance is underlined, also, by a recent advertising campaign in which he was used alongside Zidane. It was another sign of just what he already represents.

Bellingham has embraced everything. “He will evolve more than anywhere at Madrid,” Clotet says. “From the beginning he showed that every game is for real, every game is important. The more important the game the better he is. It is incredible for a player of his age to have this level of maturity and to understand this and become a strong player in a club like this; a formidable player.”

Asquez agrees. “I think he will go into the history books at Madrid,” he says. “When he signed there were some who were saying: Jude, who? There were questions. Not any more. Madrid is in love with Bellingham.”

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