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The moment Jude Bellingham convinced Luka Modric he is Real Madrid’s future

Real Madrid's Jude Bellingham, right, and Real Madrid's Luka Modric celebrate at the end of the Champions League semifinal second leg soccer match between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, May 8, 2024

It takes a lot to impress Luka Modric. But Jude Bellingham has. The Croatian, despite being shy, does not hold back with his opinions when it comes to football.

And he does not suffer fools or underperformers gladly – and there have been a few of those since he joined Real Madrid from Tottenham Hotspur in 2012.

Despite the success, there have been expensive mistakes. Bellingham is certainly not that and quickly won over Modric and Toni Kroos, the two senior midfielders at Madrid, not just with his technique but his temperament. They recognised a big player and Modric even gave Bellingham the ultimate endorsement when he was seen moving his body to strike an imaginary ball and replicate a pass from the young man in one of the dressing rooms at Madrid’s Valdebebas training ground. Modric talked excitedly about what he had just witnessed on the practice pitch.

The Ballon D’Or-winning midfielder, now 38, has turned down eye-wateringly big offers to move to the Saudi Pro-League because he is determined to finish his career at Madrid and has remained hungry for silverware. In effect he will sign any contract put in front of him, with his current deal ending next month, such is his desire to stay for one more year.

Modric sees Bellingham as someone who can help him fulfil his aim of being the most decorated player in Madrid’s history. He currently shares that honour with 25 trophies, including five Champions Leagues. But he will break the record and can win an unprecedented sixth European Cup if Madrid beat Borussia Dortmund, Bellingham’s former club of course, at Wembley on Saturday evening.

When Kroos, 34, announced that the final would be his last game, Bellingham delivered his tribute – in Spanish – on Instagram. It ended “One year was not enough” and elicited a heartfelt response from the German: “You’re more than ready to take control! At 20 years old…” Bellingham, like Kroos, posts his own social media.

The exchange is another example of just how highly-regarded Bellingham is at Madrid and what an extraordinary impact he has made on and off the pitch at the world’s most scrutinised club where he has quickly emerged as a leader, also.

There is something Bellingham has done throughout his career that marks him out. With every dressing room he goes into – from Birmingham City to Dortmund to England to Madrid – he gravitates towards the senior pros, eager to learn and observe, while being at ease with those his age.

“You can learn from people like that. You can’t take it for granted, it’s a real blessing,” Bellingham said this week. “I am the young lad in most dressing rooms I go to and they probably find it weird that I am watching their every move, trying to take everything that I can.”

Modric and Kroos are aware of Bellingham’s eyes on them and they welcome it. They know the player he is and can be and the maturity he shows. Watch any Madrid warm-up and Bellingham can be seen not too far away from those two, picking their brains.

There is also a clip on social media of Kroos executing a pinpoint pass for Vinicius to run onto and score during a pre-season friendly against Juventus. Bellingham can be seen applauding the delivery, even before the forward reaches the ball.

At Birmingham, Bellingham became friends with goalkeeper Lee Camp, widely regarded as a good role model and one who took young players under his wing.

With Dortmund it was Marco Reus, who has been such a huge figure at the club, but also with young players like Gio Reyna and Erling Haaland. With England, Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold, and at Madrid he immediately made a beeline for Modric and Kroos while striking up close friendships with Eduardo Camavinga, Vinicius Jnr and Brahim Diaz – the Moroccan becoming his unofficial Spanish teacher.

Jude Bellingham at the basketball with Vinicius Junior, Rodrygo and Aurelien Tchouameni
Bellingham at the basketball with Vinicius Junior (left) Rodrygo and Aurelien Tchouameni - Getty Images/Oscar J. Barroso

It is all the more impressive as he is arguably keeping Diaz out of the team and any talk of tension between him and Vinicius – with claims the Brazilian feels slighted now Bellingham is the star – is simply untrue. In fact, Bellingham has gone out of his way to praise Vinicius and the feeling is mutual.

Vinicius Jr. and Jude Bellingham, players of Real Madrid, are celebrating Winning The LaLiga Title on May 12, 2024 in Madrid, Spain
Vinicius and Bellingham have become Madrid's two true superstars - Getty Images/Antonio Villalba

It also helps that Bellingham walked into a far more friendly and inclusive dressing room at Madrid than Gareth Bale did in 2013 – there are fewer egos and cliques and more cohesion under chief scout Juni Calafat who has sourced many of the younger players and hosts dinners for them – but he has also made far more effort.

Little wonder that Bellingham earned the nickname “el jefe” within weeks of arriving in Madrid. He has been the boss for Madrid this season and it would no surprise if not only are they already considering offering him a new contract – despite his current deal having five years left to run – but have earmarked him out as a future captain.

That would be some achievement for an Englishman in La Liga where there has often been suspicion about players from these shores, while the fee of up to £115million committed to sign him last summer looks like a steal. If he was sold, Bellingham would be worth closer to £300 million such is his ability and marketability.

Already Bellingham has made a greater impact, in every aspect, at Madrid than David Beckham which is some statement. But it is undeniable, even in commercial terms.

For example, Bellingham’s jersey is by far the biggest selling shirt in Madrid – outstripping Vinicius – and he can have his pick of commercial endorsements with, as Telegraph Sport revealed, Adidas making him the face and focus of their advert for the forthcoming European Championship.

Jude Bellingham is now the face of Adidas
Bellingham is now the face of Adidas - Bloomberg/Nathan Laine

There have been incidents throughout the campaign that point to Bellingham’s importance not just as a player – he has ended the season as Madrid’s top-scorer in La Liga with 19 goals in 28 games from attacking midfield – but as that leader.

Take, for example, Madrid’s Champions League group game against Napoli last November. Joselu – the 34-year-old former Stoke City striker on loan from Espanyol – missed a number of chances and held his hands up in an apology to the fans when he finally did score, from Bellingham’s clever outside-of-the-boot pass in injury-time. Bellingham’s reaction? He pushed his team-mate forward to receive the accolade from the supporters.

Bellingham later said he had worked hard to ensure he teed Joselu up and there were echoes of how he had supported goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga during a 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo last August. It was only Bellingham’s third game as a Madrid player. He scored the only goal, as well.

There is also an edge to him which is also no bad thing, especially when it comes to driving your team forward. Sometimes it goes too far such as with red card against Valencia and making fun of Getafe defender Stefan Mitrovic by pretending to be a matador. But sometimes it is just competitive instinct and a desire to win as when he cupped his ears to the Barcelona fans after scoring a last-minute winner in El Clasico and trying to put off Harry Kane as the Bayern Munich striker - and his England team-mate and captain! - waited to take a penalty in the Champions League semi-final.

It all points to Bellingham being not just a generational talent but a winner. And that leader.

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