Saturday’s Champions League final between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund holds extra significance for Jude Bellingham. His current side against his former one. And on home soil too. But don’t expect the magnitude of the occasion to get to him.

It is more likely to make him better. This is a player who, at 20, has scored stoppage-time winners home and away against Barcelona in his first season at Real Madrid. His appetite for the biggest games has been the defining feature of a stunning, 23-goal campaign.

Any doubts about how he might adapt under the glare of the spotlight at Real Madrid, with all the pressure the shirt brings, were immediately dispelled following his £115m arrival.

His first three appearances, all away from home, brought four goals. On his debut at the Bernabeu, against Getafe in September, he scored a 95th-minute winner. “It’s crazy, I have run out of words,” said team-mate David Alaba. And that was only four games in.

Bellingham continued to deliver. There was a 94th-minute winner on his Champions League bow for the club, against Union Berlin. Goals against Girona, Napoli, Osasuna and Braga followed.

Then, in October, an almost implausible high as he struck twice, the first a 30-yard stunner, the second yet another stoppage-time winner to seal a comeback victory against Barcelona in El Clasico. Ludicrously, he repeated the feat when they met again in April.

“Our fans got used to Cristiano Ronaldo, now they have Jude,” said Vinicius Junior. “Bellingham was born to play for Real Madrid.”

Records were sent tumbling in those earlier months.

His total of 14 goals in his first 15 games was the highest in the club’s history, more than even Ronaldo and Alfredo Di Stefano managed. And while his scoring rate has slowed since Christmas, the dip can be forgiven given the ridiculous heights he was previously hitting.

“He is new to La Liga, new to Real Madrid, and there is a lot of pressure when you are in that position,” says Fernando Morientes. And he should know. The former striker, a three-time Champions League winner with Madrid, scored 100 goals in 272 appearances for the club after joining them from Real Zaragoza in 1997.

“His first half of the season was amazing,” he adds of Bellingham. “He has had some ups and downs, which is normal for any young player, but I think his adaptation has been extraordinary.

“The hardest thing for a player in a new league, with a new culture and new language, is adapting but his adaptation has been fantastic. That is something all clubs want in their players.”

The need was particularly acute at Madrid given the circumstances. Bellingham was signed as part of their midfield succession plan but there was also the small matter of replacing Karim Benzema’s goals following his departure to Saudi Arabia. Kylian Mbappe did not arrive. Nor did Harry Kane.

Bellingham had to step up, thrust into an advanced midfield role somewhere between a false nine and a No 10. A comparison between his heat maps from the last two seasons highlights the extent of the positional change. It was new to him. It didn’t show.

“This year Real Madrid haven’t played with a natural striker,” adds Morientes. “This has meant a player coming from the second line has had to take on more responsibility for joining the forward line and getting through to the penalty area to score goals.

“Bellingham has shown an amazing ability to do that and define different plays. If we had asked ourselves at the beginning of the season whether he would be Real Madrid’s top scorer, few people would have thought so. They would have thought Rodryo, Vinicius or Joselu, the attackers.

“But he has added different facets to his abilities as a player and that is amazing at his age. He is not just a good midfielder who can create opportunities. He has added more to his game. As a young player, if you are able to absorb new skills like that, the team ultimately benefits.”

That has certainly been the case for Real Madrid. Bellingham had demonstrated his scoring potential at Dortmund but this season has been something else. He surpassed his total of 14 goals last season in the space of only a few months.

Source: Sky Sports


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