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Borussia Dortmund: Jude Bellingham transfer a huge loss

June 14, 2023

Jude Bellingham transformed into one of the best midfielders in the world in his time with Borussia Dortmund. However, after losing yet another superstar, are BVB just a launch-pad for future talents?

Jude Bellingham yells and points to the team badge on his Borussia Dortmund shirt.
Jude Bellingham score 24 goals in 132 appearances for Borussia DortmundImage: Moritz Müller/imago images

In his three seasons with Borussia Dortmund, Jude Bellingham developed from a lanky teenager into a fearless midfield all-rounder, using both his physicality to break up attacks and his deft touch to penetrate defences.

Now, Real Madrid have splashed out an initial €103 million ($111m) on the 19-year-old, intending to make him the centerpiece of their next generation of galacticos.

For Bellingham, it’s a logical next step and one which will be met with understandable fanfare and expectation.

But Dortmund's decision to sell with two years still left on his contract has one again posed the perennial questions over the German club's stature within the football landscape.

'I'm certainly not an apprentice anymore'

It took little time for Bellingham to showcase his talents in Germany, scoring his first goal away at MSV Duisburg in the German Cup in September 2020, a deflected effort in a 5-0 win.

Days later, in his first Bundesliga match, he picked up his first assist in the league teeing up Giovanni Reyna in a routine win against Borussia Monchengladbach.

"I'm certainly not an apprentice anymore," he said in his first interview with German magazine Kicker in October 2020, making reference to winning the 2019-20 English Football League Apprentice of the Year award.

"I’ve already matured a lot as a player and as a person in the last few months. The Bundesliga is extremely tough and deserves its reputation as one of the toughest in the world.

"It’s invaluable for my future career to adapt to the physical and mental robustness in this league, which you need at this level."

Bellingham was not wrong. In his time in black and yellow, he developed into a player who could not only shoot, dribble and pass with accuracy and ease, but also into one who could win the ball in the air and hold his ground in challenges.

Jude Bellingham stands with his hands on his hips
Jude Bellingham was made BVB's third-choice captain aged just 19Image: Dennis Ewert/RHR-FOTO/picture alliance

Alaba: 'Bellingham is one of the greatest talents in the world'

Having emerged from Erling Haaland's shadow last season, after the Norwegian midfielder joined Manchester City, Bellingham unsurprisingly became the standout player game after game for Dortmund.

In October 2022, though Dortmund slipped to a 3-1 loss to Gladbach, perhaps the most memorable moment of match came from the vibrant midfielder's brilliant assist.

His lobbed pass over the top of the The Foals' backline was not only outstanding in its accuracy and precision but his nonchalance in picking out Julian Brandt was of equal exceptionalism.

And Bellingham's aptitude and flair on the pitch have long been admired both by opponents and teammates alike – with former Bayern Munich midfielder David Alaba praising his now soon-to-be teammate in Madrid.

"He is one of the greatest midfield talents in the world," Alaba told Welt last September. "At just 19, he leads the team, doesn't hide and already decides games with his style of play."

Those qualities transferred onto the international stage too, with the dynamic No.22 the England's best player at last year's World Cup in Qatar.

Bellingham's constant energy, pressing relentlessly, often leading to the midfielder either winning the ball back or forcing an errant pass from the opposition drove his teammates to emulate his ferocity.

Real Madrid's Luca Modric and Toni Kroos stand with their hands on their hips
Bellingham is expected to lead a new generation in place of Modric, Kroos et al Image: Joan Monfort/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Wings that may well be clipped at Madrid

Even with the world at his feet and admiration flowing from all quarters, Kicker noted following confirmation of his transfer how humble he remained.

"Dortmund are not only losing an outstanding footballer," they wrote.

"But also, an extraordinary professional who – perhaps because it wasn't that long ago that he was asking for autographs as a fan himself – never forgot what a gift he had been given with his talent.

"He made people happy by taking time for them, regularly the last player to go back to the dressing room after open training sessions, constantly signing autographs and taking photos."

Yet, as with any teenager, at times his petulance when things were not going his or Dortmund's way on the pitch came to the fore.

Some personal maturity may still be required as he seeks to find his place within a Real Madrid side brimming with extraordinary individuals.

Described as awkward by Kicker, they added: "He would publicly grumble at his teammates, get a bit too exasperated and could exhibit a dismissive body language from time to time.

"He could sometimes be a bit quick to fall to ground and, if in doubt, tend to try to do everything himself.

"All things which Dortmund allowed him to do, well aware of his quality. But things which he probably won't be able to afford among the stars of Real Madrid."

Borussia Dortmund head coach Edin Terzic puts his arms around Jude Bellingham's shoulders as the player stares at the ground.
Borussia Dortmund's 2-2 draw against Mainz on the final weekend of the season saw them miss out on the Bundesliga title on goal-difference.Image: Norbert Schmidt/picture alliance

Borussia Dortmund: forever the bridesmaids?

Perhaps the more pressing question, than if Bellingham will continue to shine as brightly as he has in Spain, continues as it has for years if Borussia Dortmund can ever become more than a launch-pad for the next generations superstars.

While BVB made Ramy Bensebaini their first signing of the summer, it is expected that they will only reinvest 70% of the upfront funds they receive from the sale of Bellingham.

Coming just weeks after Dortmund came the closest they have in 11 years to winning the Bundesliga title, with the talismanic Bellingham in their side, that decision may well continue to hold with the narrative that the club prefer to be well-run runners-up.

"A change in BVB’s philosophy – scout well, buy cheap, polish and sell on – is still unthinkable," Kicker's commentary added. "Only when Dortmund start paying several players salaries of 20-30m will they be able to keep them long-term.

"That's utopian – and, thankfully, not even desired in the Ruhrgebiet, where they’d rather be runners-up 11 times than hopelessly in debt like Schalke."

Still, not all the German media remain so impressed with Dortmund's decision making. In a particularly cutting ending of RAN.de commentary's, the outlet did not hold back on their belief that Dortmund made a big mistake.

"Bellingham's contract ran until 2025, without a buy-out clause," they wrote. "Dortmund were therefore in a strong negotiating position.

"For one of the most in-demand players in Europe, could or perhaps should have got more. €103m is quickly spent – and quickly spent badly."

How I became... Jude Bellingham

Edited by Matt Ford