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Jude Bellingham and what these two pictures tell us about his attitude to football

Written by on May 6, 2024

It was impossible to know what Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham said when he approached Harry Kane as the Bayern Munich striker prepared to take a penalty in Tuesday evening’s Champions League semi-final first leg.

Whatever the precise words, it was very unlikely that Bellingham was wishing his international team-mate the best of luck, and referee Clement Turpin had to intervene to tell the midfielder to get out of the way.

Not that Kane was unduly concerned. In his initial post-match interview with TNT Sport, the game’s UK broadcaster, the England captain said he hadn’t heard what Bellingham said. It wasn’t until after the final whistle that Bellingham revealed all.

“I spoke to him after and he said: ‘I know you’re going to go left of the keeper’,” said Kane. “But it was nice for me because I saw the keeper go a little bit early and I put it away.”

It was hardly incendiary stuff, and there is unlikely to be any lasting rancour between two players who had greeted each other warmly before kick-off. Yet the contrast between the image of Bellingham whispering in Kane’s ear in an effort to gain an advantage for his club and the picture of him putting his arm around the same player moments after he had missed a crucial late penalty against France in England’s 2022 World Cup quarter-finals defeat could not have been greater.


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They also speak to two sides of Bellingham’s personality, both of which have been evident in what is his debut season in Spain. There have never been any doubts regarding strength of character – his penchant for late goals, including in both La Liga Clasicos against Barcelona, is testament to that.

While clearly enjoying the attention coming his way from his new club’s fans, Bellingham has also been praised for sharing the limelight: take, for example, his instruction for fans to applaud Fede Valverde for setting him up to score against Osasuna in October.

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He also provided a very unselfish assist for striker Joselu the following month, subsequently explaining that he wanted to help out a team-mate who had been going through a rough spell in front of goal.

This looked like exceptional emotional intelligence and personal maturity, and helped make Bellingham phenomenally popular with Madrid players and supporters alike.

His gesture to Kane following that World Cup quarter-final penalty was significant, too. Bellingham – then aged just 19 – was the only member of the England side to console their captain after he failed to equalise in the 84th minute of what ended as a 2-1 loss, and it spoke to a maturity beyond his years.


Jude Bellingham consoles Harry Kane (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

The flipside to all this, however, is that Bellingham can also come close to the line – or even cross it – when things are not going so well either for him personally or for his team.

That was already signalled during his time at previous club Borussia Dortmund, when Bellingham was known to feel that some team-mates did not reach his own high standards — especially when they threw away a great chance to win the German title in May last year.

Bellingham’s patience with Spanish referees also wore thin quite quickly. He felt he was not receiving enough protection as defenders used any methods they could to limit his influence on games.

He picked up four yellow cards in six games through January and February, mostly for either dissent or ‘revenge’ fouls, serving a punishment for accumulation of bookings. Then came his most high-profile run-in with officialdom, when he was red-carded for furious protests after referee Jesus Gil Manzano whistled for full time just as he thought he had scored another late winner in a La Liga game against Valencia in early March.

Bellingham was still raging as he left the pitch that night, quickly reposting an Instagram message which said: “The referee literally waited for Brahim Diaz to cross the ball! THIS IS A SCANDAL.” He quickly removed that message from his account, but he was still banned for three matches.

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There was also the incident when Madrid played neighbours Getafe in early February, and Bellingham clashed with fellow Englishman Mason Greenwood, during a bad-tempered game against a physical team.

Getafe claimed that Bellingham had made an “offensive remark” to Greenwood, who joined the La Liga club on a season-long loan from Manchester United at the end of last summer’s transfer window. Greenwood had seen charges of attempted rape, assault, and coercive control dropped by the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in February 2023. He denied all the alleged offences.

After a lip reader was consulted, the Spanish FA (RFEF) said no credible evidence of what Bellingham allegedly said to Greenwood had been found, and the case was dismissed.

Bellingham received total backing from Madrid head coach Carlo Ancelotti and the club hierarchy after both the Greenwood and Mestalla incidents, and everyone at the Bernabeu has been keen to look after their latest emerging superstar.

Fans of the club will also not be worried about any signs of being a bad loser, or even his taste for gamesmanship. Both fit perfectly with Madrid’s self-image as a place where winning is the most important thing (even as it goes against the ‘gentlemanly’ values that they also boast of).


Jude Bellingham does not lack confidence (Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images)

Bellingham’s career has been on warp speed so far – from becoming Birmingham City’s youngest first-team player just past his 16th birthday, to moving to Germany as the most expensive 17-year-old in history, playing for England at two international tournaments while still a teenager, and now making such a sensational start with Madrid.

All this brings attention and pressure. Bellingham has mostly shown he can handle it, and channel whatever he is feeling into spectacular performances and moments for his team. Still, for all his many talents, he is not Superman, and there have been signs lately that he is feeling the strains of his incredible first season in Spain.

He struggled to make an impact during the two Champions League quarter-final legs recently against Manchester City. And while he followed that with the last-gasp El Clasico winner 10 days ago, he was quiet again last night in his first game in Germany since leaving Dortmund.

“Jude didn’t play at his best today, but he will be back very soon,” said Ancelotti, who also revealed Bellingham had been withdrawn because he was suffering from cramp. “He will be 100 per cent by Wednesday (the second leg at the Bernabeu next week).”

Could Bellingham’s character lead to behaviour that might be better controlled? Maybe. And s***housing your national captain in a Champions League semi-final is probably not the wisest idea.

But if Bellingham’s career has taught us anything, it is that he will do things his way.

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(Top photos: TNT Sports and Getty Images)

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