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Kane vs. Bellingham: A new chapter in epic Bayern-Madrid rivalry

Written by on April 29, 2024

On the face of it, Tuesday’s Champions League semifinal is a collision between two clubs who, across their European history, have usually despised each other and whose matches have consistently been explosive, and occasionally violent.

The story lurking only just underneath that surface is of two talented, ambitious Englishman. One who is being painted as a “Jonah,” an “Albatross,” and the other who is the darling of everybody’s eyes because, in footballing terms, he’s blessed with the Midas touch.

The two enemies, culturally and competitively doomed to misunderstand and envy one another, are of course Real Madrid and their first-leg hosts Bayern Munich.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

The two Englishmen are Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham — there’s a decade between these two wonderful footballers, but there’s an entire galaxy separating Bayern and Madrid where both of the two England internationals have gone, specifically, to try and win this legendary, coveted, beautiful trophy.

First of all: the evidence of how these clubs feel about one another, and why.

This particular match-up remains the European Clasico, even though Madrid against Manchester City is making inroads into that status.

The way to justify that billing is this — Madrid and Bayern have met 26 times (12 wins for the Spaniards, 11 for the Bavarians) with: 80 goals (Madrid 41 vs. Bayern 39), nine red cards (five Bayern, four Madrid), a stadium ban (Madrid), a fan punching the referee (the “Madman of the Bernabeu”), a UEFA ban (Madrid’s Juanito), Bayern executive Uli Hoeness calling Florentino Pérez’s Madrid “Galactico” project a “clown-circus,” an ultra-dramatic penalty shootout (where Bayern won and Sergio Ramos sent his penalty into outer space), thrashings for both teams home and away (one of which Pep Guardiola still refers to as “the biggest f— up of my entire career”), not a single 0-0 draw, and 20 Champions League trophies shared between these two grand clubs.

I’ll only sketch the details of a couple of those explosive moments in this long history of antagonism.

The “Madman of the Bernabeu” earned his embarrassing nickname in 1976 when the two sides played in the European Cup semifinal.

A Madrid fan, who’s subsequently been interviewed but never publicly admitted his name, was so angered by Austrian referee Erich Linemayr that he told his six-month pregnant wife he was going to the toilets, pulled his Madrid cap low down over his forehead to try and avoid identification, leapt over the barriers and, disgracefully, tried to assault the poor match official. The idiot was arrested, managed to give (friendly) Madrid police the slip, evaded punishment — except for the fact that his father, furious at the family disgrace, wouldn’t speak to him for two full years. Madrid, as a consequence, suffered a stadium ban.

The Juanito story accounts for the worst red card of the nine shown across this European vendetta. When you watch Madrid matches, or attend the stadium, you’ll have heard the crowd roar: “¡Illa illa, illa!… ¡Juanito maravilla!” If not, listen out for it next time.

The late Juanito (tragically killed in a car crash when he was only 37) is the fighting-spirit-in-a-bottle every club wishes it had. He is the emblem of the remontada — the fightback — which is now central to Madrid’s DNA. Madrid fans, when the team is in difficulty, pray for “11 Juanitos!”

But against Bayern in 1987, at the semifinal stage in Munich, the Germans were running riot: 3-0 after 37 minutes. Lothar Matthäus fouled Madrid right-back, Chendo, (who, by the way is still Los Blancos’ match delegate, so he’s the bespectacled man you see handing the details to the fourth official every time Madrid make a substitution) and all hell broke loose. Chendo jumped up and angrily pushed the brilliant German midfielder to the ground. Then Juanito came running in, kicked Matthäus in the ribs and, as soon as the Scottish referee’s back was turned, stamped on the Bayern player’s jaw. Cue mayhem. Juanito was sent off and then banned from UEFA football for five years.

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3:53

‘He’s made it look easy!’ – Bellingham’s incredible first season with Real Madrid

Former Real Madrid winger Steve McManaman joins Martin Ainstein to speak about Jude Bellingham’s first season with the club.

And that penalty shoot-out in 2012?

The first leg in Bavaria ended 2-1 in favour of Bayern. The second leg at the Bernabeu finished 2-1 to Madrid. Then extra time, then penalties. A shootout of rampant nerves and, surprisingly, an unbelievable lack of quality. Cristiano Ronaldo missed, Kaká missed, Philipp Lahm missed, Toni Kroos (for Bayern) missed. Read those names again. Can you actually believe all that?

But when Ramos stepped up, with no room for failure, Madrid had entrusted a guy who, to this day, has taken 37 competitive penalties, score 32 and miss only five.

Sadly, that night was not only the first penalty failure of his senior career, the ball flew so high over Manuel Neuer’s goal that poor old Ramos was the victim of a series of social media memes for weeks. So angry was the Madrid defender that he told his brother, and Jesús Navas, that the next penalty he took, no matter against whom or in what circumstances, he was going to “Panenka”-chip the keeper. I was there when it happened, in Donetsk, two months later and he converted it to put Spain into the Euro 2012 final against Italy.

Suffice to say I think I’ve loaded you with enough evidence to make the case that no matter how hugely important it is for both club to try and reach Wembley this season and compete for the best trophy in club football, this isn’t purely business — it’s personal. Which it’s definitely not between Kane and the very able Bellingham.

Tuesday’s match will have a confetti of wonderful players scattered over it, it’s not simply Kane vs. Bellingham. But the England captain’s 42 goals and 13 assists in 42 matches since joining Bayern, while the team has systematically gone about losing every other competition they’ve competed in this season, means that Kane, without question, is the second biggest threat to Real Madrid.

Kane is, in many ways, Bellingham’s polar opposite. Ultra-loyal to Tottenham Hotspur, dedicated to beating their all-time scoring record, unable to win a senior trophy with club or country and now aged 30, he was within his rights to think that Bayern was his ticket to silverware. After all, they’d won 11 straight Bundesliga titles.

Bellingham is so, so different. A prodigy aged 16 at Birmingham City, playing abroad (in Germany with Borussia Dortmund) by the time he was 17 — the same age at which he became an England regular and the third-youngest man to ever play for his country. Unlike Kane, he’s already got two senior medals and, unlike Kane, his “bet” on moving to Madrid paid off. Real Madrid had only won three of the previous 11 LaLiga titles, but they’ll be crowned Spanish champions in his first season there.

You be the judge of whether, given that he’s 20, in his first season with Los Blancos and mostly playing attacking midfield, Bellingham’s 21 goals and 10 assists is as impressive as Kane. It’s a pungent debate without an easy answer. But take your pick. You can easily argue that whichever of the two Englishmen hits better form, produces better goal-impact and shows a more dominant character will go a long way to settling the first part of this eternal grudge match.

But, by the way, did you notice that I called Kane the second biggest threat to Madrid? That’s because there’s a powerful stat-battle which hints as to which team might be the favourite here. Bellingham’s played Bayern eight times with one draw, seven defeats and no goals. Kane’s played Madrid twice, drawn one, won one, no goals. But the daddy-stat of them all is that Bayern coach Thomas Tuchel has faced Real Madrid eight times while variously in charge of Dortmund, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea. The German coach has a record which reads just one defeat, four draws and three wins, so is he the X-factor which tips this tie Bayern’s way?

At all costs, note the kick-off time, switch all the phones off, make sure that nobody with a belligerent hot temperament watches this first leg with you — and then just savour the tension, quality and drama. This might be epic. Again.

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