The Year of Bellingham? Jude is on the cusp of greatness and trophies in 2024

It was an outrageously ambitious acceptance speech. When Jude Bellingham accepted the Golden Boy Award, he declared, “I want to win everything.” Given the feeling of limitless possibility that surrounds him, perhaps he could. England will take part in Euro 2024 after 58 years of injury, a wait for a trophy that has lasted almost three times as long as Bellingham’s life, but his progress has been quicker and his skill even greater than expected. Triumph in Berlin in July and it could be the Bellingham effect. Or maybe this will get Real Madrid into the Champions League instead.

He received his Golden Boy award with 485 out of 500 possible votes: 45 of the 50 jurors rated him as Europe’s best player under the age of 21, the other five as second best. He finished 18thTh at the Ballon d’Or and one can already assume that it will be his lowest place in many years. As Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo left the stage, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland appeared to be the two best candidates to replace them as the world’s outstanding players.

But Bellingham’s stellar 2023 suggests they will have competition. He ends the year as a midfielder who is La Liga’s top scorer, just one goal away from achieving the same Champions League status. When Karim Benzema, himself a 2022 Ballon d’Or winner, surprised Real by deciding to move to Saudi Arabia, there were questions about whether Mbappe would be his successor. Instead, in a sense, it was Bellingham: Carlo Ancelotti put together a formation without strikers that gave Bellingham the freedom to get forward, but he did so with a gift that few expected.

And should his second half of the season be as productive as the first, Bellingham would find himself in rare company. The only players to have won the Pichichi Trophy, La Liga’s top goalscorer award, in the last 15 years are Messi, Ronaldo, Benzema, Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez: each of them great, but none of them Profession a midfielder.

Bellingham averages almost a goal per game with Real Madrid

(Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“We are all surprised at how many goals Jude has scored,” said Ancelotti. “He is incredible, extraordinary.” And yet what is most remarkable is not the number of his goals, but rather the quality and timing. A typical example of this was scoring the winning goal in his first Clasico in stoppage time – when he had already scored a first-class goal from 25 meters. In the Champions League there was a fascinating solo run in Napoli at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. Add to that a propensity for scoring late winners – against Getafe and Union Berlin as well as against Barcelona – and Bellingham senses the player is ready for both the big moment and the big event.

England’s autumn felt like evidence. He doesn’t allow himself to be intimidated: not by playing for Real, not by the stage. Bellingham was the dominant player against Scotland at Hampden Park, again when Italy visited Wembley. Gareth Southgate’s change in tactics to use him as a number 10 is proof that he can be the match winner and that his one-two punch with Harry Kane could be crucial. England are building themselves around Bellingham: This makes sense as in previous tournaments players like Steven Gerrard were given roles that didn’t really suit them.

Go back to the first half of Bellingham’s 2023 and several elements stand out. As a teenager, he captained Borussia Dortmund in a Champions League knockout game. But there was still the knee injury that meant he couldn’t play in the final day’s draw against Mainz: given his transformative abilities, it’s tempting to wonder whether a fit Bellingham will end Bayern Munich’s decades-long reign and the The Bundesliga title would have been out of their grasp.

Bellingham is expected to play a key role for England at next summer’s European Championships

(The FA via Getty Images)

Nevertheless, he left Germany as Bundesliga Player of the Season, potentially giving him a rare double if he can win the corresponding award in Spain a year later. This year suggested he could prove to be England’s best player exiled rather than returning home: Liverpool were a long-term suitor, Jurgen Klopp was open in his admiration for Bellingham, Jordan Henderson seemingly tried to sell Anfield to his England team-mate sell, but they accepted the inevitable even before an £88m deal with Real was agreed. But his wanderlust means there’s something exotic about the Brummie boy; With his club football being played in the Bundesliga and now La Liga, English audiences don’t typically see him every week.

But it does mean Bellingham is following in the footsteps of legends. The story is now known that he wore the number 22 jersey because, as an all-round midfielder, he had a 4, an 8 and a 10. At Real he was a kind of false nine, while he wore the number 5 that used to belong to Zinedine Zidane. Ancelotti, who coached the Frenchman, said: “What I see is (Bellingham’s) ability to get into the box. Zidane didn’t have that. And Bellingham doesn’t have the individual quality that Zidane had.” But for the Italian, who has spent four decades playing with and training the game’s greats, he described Bellingham as “a gift for football.” . For Real Madrid and England, Bellingham could prove to be the gift that keeps on giving in 2024.

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