A €103m bargain! Jude Bellingham is balling out for Real Madrid to ensure Karim Benzema isn't being missed... yet

Comments (0)
Jude Bellingham GFX
The England international has scored three goals in his first two La Liga appearances, wasting no time in making his mark on Los Blancos

The image is becoming familiar for Real Madrid fans. Their new signing, a 20-year-old Englishman standing before them, arms spread in celebration, smirking slightly after watching the ball hit the net. It is a move equal parts humble and cocky, a pose that looks like greatness, in a position marked by humility.

Jude Bellingham has done that very thing in La Liga on three separate occasions — once for every time he has found the net in Madrid white. It has become his signature celebration, his recognisable move. Bellingham, the €103 million (£88m/$110m) signing, now has a brand.

And it's something that Madrid have badly needed since Karim Benzema signed for Saudi Pro League side Al-Ittihad in June. He, too, had a signature reaction, flailing limbs and shouts of delight — a player who celebrated all of his 354 Madrid goals like they were his first.

There are, theoretically, contenders in this side to replace — or at least, offset — the goalscoring void left by Benzema's departure. Bellingham, and his eight Bundesliga goals for Borussia Dortmund last season, didn't appear to be one of them.

Now, though, he has three in his first two. Throw in an assist — provided for Vinicius Jr to round off Madrid's 3-1 handling of Almeria — and Madrid have an all-round attacking threat from what is essentially a new position in this side.

Bellingham is not Benzema, nor is he Zinedine Zidane, Cristiano Ronaldo or Raul. But so far, he's looked like a nine-figure bargain, a player who can provide in the final third and ensure that Madrid don't miss their biggest departure in years.

  1. Living in a Benzema-less world
    Getty Images

    Living in a Benzema-less world

    Bellingham's signature was more or less sewn up by the time Benzema announced his departure in early June. Liverpool had previously pulled out of the race in early April, and Madrid made it clear that they would pay Dortmund's asking price soon after. Bellingham would later claim himself that he wanted to move to Santiago Bernabeu since early 2023.

    And he was supposed to walk into a team led by Benzema — at least, for one more year. The Ballon d'Or winner's departure came as a surprise for Madrid, who perhaps planned for his exit in 2024, a summer that could perfectly coincide with the arrival of Kylian Mbappe on a free transfer — the exchange of one great Frenchman for another.

    Instead, Madrid entered the summer window without a striker, having spent a large chunk of cash on the world's best young midfielder. For a side that already had five top-class players in that position, it suddenly appeared slightly imbalanced.

    Manager Carlo Ancelotti did little to quell those fears when he announced that Madrid wouldn't dip into the market for a new striker. Madrid, he claimed, had enough resources to succeed. He referred to the goalscoring talents of Rodrygo and Vinicius, and suggested that loan signing Joselu could chip in, but, pointedly, made it clear that those 35 goals per season would be made up by committee.

  2. Tactical tweaks

    Tactical tweaks

    Bellingham didn't really crop up in those conversations. Ancelotti repeatedly referred to the England international's ability to "make the most of the free space", but alluded to the fact that his new midfielder was brought in as an all-round presence, not necessarily a creative or prolific threat. It is credit to Ancelotti, then, that he has found a way to get the best out of Bellingham in the final third so quickly.

    For some time, the manager has been a 4-3-3 loyalist. Benzema's tendency to roam, and Federico Valverde's propensity for cutting inside off the right made things flexible. But, effectively, the manager lined up with a recognised striker, two wingers, and three central midfielders — a simple enough formation made complex by the interpretation of the players he deployed.

    Now, though, the manager has changed things up. Madrid's depth in the heart of the pitch has effectively forced the Italian to play with four midfielders. The lack of a clear No.9, meanwhile, has been used as an advantage, allowing Ancelotti to go back to his tactical roots. Los Blancos now play with Bellingham as a No.10 behind two split strikers. It is the kind of system Ancelotti made use of in his formative days in Serie A, coincidentally, using the man who would also later wear Bellingham's No.5 for Real Madrid: Zidane.

  3. Coaxing goals out of Bellingham

    Coaxing goals out of Bellingham

    It seemed, at first, that the change was made out of necessity. After all, a tactical switch is the only way to keep all of his talent happy. But it turns out that the four-time Champions League winner, and only manager to win a title in every one of Europe's top five leagues might know a thing or two about football...

    Bellingham's ability to do a bit of everything is the driving reason behind his signature. Ancelotti himself admitted that the Englishman is a "complete midfielder". It's well known that Bellingham wore the No.22 shirt at both Birmingham City and Borussia Dortmund because he sees himself as a No.4, No.8 and No.10 all rolled up into one player.

    At Dortmund, he proved as such, albeit playing mostly as a No.8 and spending most of his time eating up ground between the boxes. He was a solid contributor in the attacking third — bagging eight league goals from an expected goals (xG) total of 8.2, though calling him a constant scoring threat would be a stretch. His creative numbers were also agreeable, with Bellingham finishing the season with four Bundesliga assists and averaging one key pass per game.

    Getting him into the right spaces, though, has only amplified his attacking output. Against Almeria, almost all of his touches came in the attacking third as Bellingham received the ball in between the lines and strode forward. He scored twice, assisted once, played three key passes, and put four shots on target.

    Of course, giving a player more opportunities in an attacking sense will undoubtedly make them more likely to contribute by volume alone. But Bellingham hasn't stumbled his way into four goal contributions in two games. This is a calculated change to bring goals out of someone who didn't score as much as he maybe could have previously.

  4. Winning the hearts of Madridistas

    Winning the hearts of Madridistas

    It's something of a calculated risk to give Bellingham such a crucial role. Here is one of the biggest signings in club history, being handed the reins instantly, entrusted to lead Europe's most successful club at just 20 years old. This is not normal.

    That this 20-year-old is also English, also has significance. Spain has long been suspect of English midfielders — and with good reason. La Liga is far more technical than the Premier League. Midfielders in Spain aren't always powerful or athletic, mostly because they don't have to be.

    Bellingham, for his part, is over six foot tall, stronger than the average centre-back, with a powerful running form — more Steven Gerrard than Andres Iniesta. That he came to a club that has a mixed history with English players (see Jonathan Woodgate), bred some scepticism in the Spanish capital. Bellingham's quality was undeniable, but this was a teenager from Birmingham, who had never won a major domestic title, possessing the audacity to take Zidane's number.

    As it turns out, being good at football has silenced Bellingham's detractors. Madrid fans and players alike have embraced their new star man. He took selfies with local police officers after his side's win on Saturday; has helped the club gain four million new social media followers, while Vinicius is already copying his celebration after scoring. As one Madrid source told The Athletic: "He’s not only growing because he’s at Madrid, but Madrid is growing because he’s at Real Madrid."

  5. Just the beginning
    Getty Images

    Just the beginning

    That improvement, for club and player alike, will likely only continue. Bellingham said he can already feel a difference in himself, declaring post-match on Saturday that he is "10-times better as a player than last season." Playing alongside Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, with Vinicius and Rodrygo to provide for, his calibre of performance — and numbers that accompany it — should only go one way.

    Still, there is a real urgency here. Modric and Kroos are reaching the twilight of their career while Ancelotti will take the Brazil national team job at the end of the season. Bellingham has won over the sceptics, and certainly showed enough to suggest that he can seize the spotlight for this side. But Madrid isn't a place that allows complacency. Individual performances are acknowledged. Wins are what really matter.

    It could all be further complicated if Mbappe arrives from Paris Saint-Germain next summer. He will likely stir things up, potentially forcing one of either Vinicius or Rodrygo out of the XI — or push Bellingham into a deeper midfield role. A new manager could change, or ruin, this tactical groove after just 12 months of good times. Bellingham has until the end of the season to prove this is a system worth sticking with.

    Even if he doesn't, or a new manager changes the setup, Bellingham will appear for at least six years in Madrid white. He will likely be a fixture for multiple iterations of Los Blancos, serving as a constant while youngsters move into the squad and old heads move on.

    All the while, Bellingham has set himself up to be the constant, the focal point of a team that will be at its best when he's at the centre of it all, arms wide in celebration, becoming a legend in his own right.