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Jude Bellingham: The rise of €103m new galactico

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Just 16 years of age, a young Jude Bellingham broke into Birmingham’s first team. His first opponent? Portsmouth in the League Cup. Though the tie ended in a 3-0 defeat, Bellingham left his imprint on the English game. Battling for every ball, contesting on every blade of grass, it was clear to see this boy had something…

‘He ended up taking us to the national finals’
Though Jude’s career would turn to football, his ability to apply himself and compete in any sport was apparent from the get go. His natural ability, combined with hard work and application would see him succeed at whatever challenge was put in front of him. Long distance running, sprint races and cricket were among the other sports that Jude excelled in. Jude’s Primary school teacher James Ayers said: “He had the mentality where if he saw someone achieving something or doing something that he thought was better than him, he would focus his attention on that.”

Jude’s football life began in Stourbridge, playing for his local side in the area he grew up. It wasn’t long before Jude joined Birmingham’s U8s, progressing through the academy until breaking into the U18s side at the age of 14. Team-mate and schoolfriend Geraldo Bajrami said: “I just remember at school, at the playground he would be 11, playing with the 16-year-olds, ripping them to shreds.”

It was always apparent Jude was ahead of his age group showing maturity and drive. His academy coach at Birmingham Mike Dodds told Sky Sports News: “Around 11, 12, 13 was probably the kind of time where he’s accelerating quicker than the boys in his age group. He was my best coach educator, I could never go into a training session with Jude Bellingham and not be planned and organised.”

Dodd also explains the thought process behind the 22 shirt Jude wore. He explained his idea that the youngster would possess the attributes of a number four, five, six, and number eight player. As a result, Dodds felt this made him a more rounded player who was adaptable to any situation in midfield.

Agile, quick, and technically gifted, Jude would run rings around his team-mates so yet again, he was fast-tracked into the U23s team at 15-years-old. Three goals from 10 appearances didn’t go unnoticed in the development squad, with Jude gradually being introduced to the first team as a schoolboy. Bellingham took up a two-year scholarship beginning in July 2019. His home league debut for Birmingham was against Stoke City, coming on as substitute after 30 minutes had been played.

Birmingham were 1-0 down at this point but an inspired Bellingham performance resulted in a Blues 2-1 victory, with Jude scoring the winner.

Starting out on the left wing, Jude was eventually pushed into the centre of midfield, and his impressive performances won him EFL young player of the month in November 2019. His manager at the time Pep Clotet said: “he feels more comfortable in midfield.”

There was widespread interest in the 2020 January transfer window even though he had only played half a season. Fortunately for Birmingham he stayed, with Clotet saying: “I was a little bit afraid we might even lose Jude,” showing just how important he was at just 16 years of age.

He finished the season with four goals and 44 appearances across all competitions, helping Birmingham secure their Championship status after a turbulent season. This would be his final campaign in the Midlands.

Bellingham would eventually leave Birmingham in the summer of 2020. Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund were the favourites to secure his signature. It had been reported that the midfielder’s father Mark visited multiple top European sides to consider their suitability to find the next important step in his career.

In the end, the famous yellow wall of Borussia Dortmund proved to be the destination. Renowned for developing young prospects and providing them game time, it appeared to be a logical decision for the midfielder to further his career. Twenty-five million pounds later and donning their distinctive black and yellow shirt, Jude was a Borussia Dortmund player at 17. It was the most expensive transfer in history for a 17-year-old, and he showed his talent, scoring on his debut against MSV Duisburg on September 14, 2020.

Five days later he made his Bundesliga debut against Borussia Mönchengladbach, assisting the opening goal in a 3-0 win. The following month Jude faced Lazio in the Champions League at 17 years and 113 days old, making him the youngest Englishman to play in the competition, a record previously set by Manchester City’s Phil Foden.

Former Borussia Dortmund team-mate Thomas Delaney could see straight away Jude was different to your average teenager describing. Delaney described him as “intense”, adding: “He expects a lot from himself and he expects a lot from his surroundings… he has a big big heart of going the extra mile”. Delaney even went on to make comparisons to the prolific Erling Haaland. “They have this loose wire which I think is very important…this mentality of winning in training, in every part of the game.”

Bellingham would shine yet again on the biggest stage in Europe against Manchester City during the quarter-final knockout stage. He was heavily involved in Marco Reus’ goal in the first away leg, as well as scoring in the second home leg. A fine strike into the top right corner, just inside the 25-yard box. If you hadn’t heard the name Jude Bellingham before, you had now. Bellingham went on to finish his debut season in Germany with 46 appearances and four goals in all competitions, winning the DFB-Pokal (his first major trophy), and was awarded “Newcomer of the season” by his fellow players.

Education
Bellingham continued to study remotely with Loughborough University while at Dortmund. He completed his diploma with his college mentor Jason Ramsey saying: “He could put his mind to absolutely anything, he could be a lawyer, he could be a solicitor, he’s being a footballer…he could be a teacher himself, he could be a reporter and I still think he’d be one of the best.” Bellingham juggled his education with the pressures of being a professional footballer, completing his course with the high standards he carries in all walks of life.

Coinciding with his club success, Bellingham’s international career took a step to the next level in the 2020/21 season. He made his debut replacing Mason Mount against the Republic of Ireland in November leading to his squad selection for the 2020 European Championships, which was subsequently delayed until 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Bellingham made multiple substitution appearances in the tournament, making him, at the time, the youngest player to have feature at the tournament. Chris Powell, England coach at the time, said: “The biggest compliment I can give Jude is during the Euros, the camp, and the training, all you ever heard was, ‘Well played Jude’, ‘Fantastic Jude’, ‘Well done Bellers’. It was like watching a player who had a real idea of the game.”

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European Leagues

Europa League leading scorers ahead of semi-final fixtures

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Marseille’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the leading scorer in this season’s UEFA Europa League ahead of the semi-final fixtures in May

Marseille’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the leading scorer in this season’s UEFA Europa League ahead of the semi-final fixtures in May.

The former Arsenal captain is ahead of Roma’s Romelu Lukaku and Brighton’s João Pedro on the goal chart.

The Gabonese has ten goals to his name so far.

UEFA Europa League top scorers ahead of semi-final fixtures:

10 goals – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Marseille)

7 goals – Romelu Lukaku (Roma)

6 goals – João Pedro (Brighton)

5 goals – Victor Boniface (Leverkusen), Michael Gregoritsch (Freiburg), Viktor Gyökeres (Sporting CP), Fotis Ioannidis (Panathinaikos), Juninho (Qarabağ), Mohammed Kudus (West Ham), Darwin Núñez (Liverpool), Mohamed Salah (Liverpool), Gianluca Scamacca (Atalanta) and Patrik Schick (Leverkusen).

Meanwhile, Marseille will face Atalanta in the semi-final stage, while Bayer Leverkusen will tackle AS Roma.

 

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Liverpool defeat Atalanta 1-0 but crash out of Europa League on aggregate

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Liverpool were knocked out of the Europa League by Atalanta with the Italian side reaching the semi-finals 3-1 on aggregate on Thursday.

Liverpool were knocked out of the Europa League by Atalanta with the Italian side reaching the semi-finals 3-1 on aggregate on Thursday.

Atalanta are in the last four of a European competition for the first time since 1988, despite Mohamed Salah’s early penalty giving Liverpool a 1-0 second leg win, thanks to their three-goal lead established in the quarter-final first leg at Anfield last week.

In what is becoming a sobering climax to the season, Liverpool have won just three of their last nine games in all competitions and again looked tired after already having played 52 games this campaign.

Jurgen Klopp may well only have the League Cup to show for his final season on Merseyside as the German’s team have been eliminated from the FA Cup and Europa League and trail Manchester City in the Premier League title race.

Gian Piero Gasperini called Thursday’s match probably the most important Atalanta had ever played and his players were hailed as heroes at the final whistle by a pulsating crowd at the Gewiss Stadium in Bergamo.

Fireworks were shot into the air from behind the stands while in the ground supporters bounced and roared at a huge victory for their team against giants of European football.

Atalanta last reached the semi-finals of a European competition in 1988 when they were knocked out of the old Cup Winners’ Cup by Mechelen.

Atalanta were then a Serie B team but the future is increasingly bright for a historically small, provincial club which has been punching well above its weight ever since Gasperini took charge in 2016.

Reaching the last four even trumps their run to 2020 Champions League quarter-finals, where they were desperately unlucky to lose to Paris Saint-Germain.

That run came at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, as Bergamo became the epicentre of a deadly global health crisis.

And Atalanta still have the opportunity to crown Gasperini’s reign with the club’s first major trophy since the Italian Cup in 1963.

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Bayer Leverkusen qualify for Europa League semis after edging West Ham

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Newly-crowned Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen reached the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday and stretched their undefeated

Newly-crowned Bundesliga champions Bayer Leverkusen reached the Europa League semi-finals on Thursday and stretched their undefeated run in all competitions this season to 44 matches.

The German side drew 1-1 at West Ham in the second leg of their quarter-final tie and went through 3-1 on aggregate.

Michail Antonio put West Ham ahead on 13 minutes before Jeremie Frimpong levelled in the 89th minute for Xabi Alonso’s side.

Bayer Leverkusen will face Roma for a place in the final.

“I think we felt it in the first half, for me, it was a typical English crowd. They were pushing West Ham unbelievably. We were lucky in the first half if we’re honest,” Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Granit Xhaka told TNT Sports.

“It was a different phase in the second half, we controlled the game. We are happy we got through.

“We competed much more. If you see over 180 minutes, the better team go through.”

Last weekend, Bayer Leverkusen won the Bundesliga for the first time, ending Bayern Munich’s 11-year grip on the title.

They remain in contention for a treble trophy haul this season as they also face second-division Kaiserslautern in the German Cup final on May 25.

 

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