Taking the next step in what looks set to be the dream footballing career, Jude Bellingham has signed for Real Madrid. And to go one better, it has emerged that he will wear their iconic number five shirt next season.
On the surface, there is nothing remotely special about the number five, and the idea of a midfielder as creative and elegant as Bellingham wearing what is nowadays a defenders’ number feels incredibly strange. But not at Real Madrid, because their number five was graced by the endlessly iconic Zinedine Zidane from 2001 to 2006.
Zizou made the shirt cool. Seriously cool. Like nobody else could ever do. But in the time since, it’s lost a bit of spark. Before Bellingham attempts to rediscover that spark, we’ve decided to take a look at those who have wore it since Zidane, and rank them on their success at Los Blancos.
6. Fernando Gago
After impressing at Boca Juniors, Gago cost Real some €20 million back in 2006, and played regularly during his first few years while wearing the number eight shirt. He switched to number five in 2009 to allow new signing Kaka to take the eight shirt, but would barely feature in the months following the switch due to injury.
That then coincided with the arrival of Jose Mourinho in 2010, who didn’t see Gago as a start in his side. A generally underwhelming spell took a nosedive after he switched to the five shirt. Ouch.
5. Nuri Sahin
The year is 2011. An exciting, up and coming creative midfielder who cut his teeth at Borussia Dortmund has just earned a high-profile move to Real Madrid. Jude Bellingham hadn’t yet reached double figures in age.
Sahin arrived to Real with plenty raving about him, but he failed to break into the starting XI regularly due to injuries and inconsistencies. The following season he was loaned to Liverpool, although the deal was cut short in January 2013 and he temporarily returned to Dortmund. He resigned for Dortmund permanently in 2014, with his venture to the Spanish capital having failed miserably.
Let’s hope Bellingham’s career arc isn’t a repeat of this.
4. Jesus Vallejo
Vallejo signed for Real in 2015 with the idea being he’d eventually grow into a first-team player at the club, but it didn’t quite work out. After a loan to Eintracht Frankfurt, he returned donning what was Pepe’s number three shirt, but was never able to establish himself as more than a rotation arm.
A few more loan spells followed in the late 2010s, first to Wolves and later to Granada. Vallejo has been back in the Real squad since 2021, wearing the number five and winning honours such as La Liga and the Champions League, but has been little more than cover for the big guns.
3. Fabio Coentrao
A name that flies under the radar somewhat, a bright start to his career at Madrid would eventually fizzle out due to injuries, but Coentrao generally proved to be a success.
Versatility would prove to be his big strength, with Mourinho relying on Coentrao to put in a shift at either left-back or in midfield in big games. He won La Liga in his first season at the club and was involved in the Copa Del Rey/Champions League double of 2013-14, but his powers began to wane after that. Injuries took over and the Portugal international fell out of favour, eventually leaving for good in 2018 after a few loans back to Portugal.
Not the most flashy, but a very solid servant.
2. Fabio Cannavaro
Off the back of him captaining Italy to the World Cup and establishing himself as an all-time great defender, Real were able to snap up Cannavaro for just €7m in 2006, as a result of Juventus being relegated to Serie B due to the Calciopoli scandal.
In three seasons at the Bernabeu, their Italian number five looked imperious and helped the club to two La Liga titles, while also lifting the 2006 Ballon d’Or and winning the FIFA World Player of the Year award.
Cannavaro opted to return to Turin with Juve when his contract expired in 2009, and was cheered off into the Italian sunset by his Spanish fans. Short but very sweet.
Happy 4⃣7⃣th birthday to the last defender to win the #BallondOr award! 🎂
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) September 13, 2020
1. Raphael Varane
Champions League Varane. Not much else has to be said.
Pipping Manchester United to his signing in 2011, Real snapped up a young Varane from Lens and initially issued him the number 19 shirt. The teenager lifted the La Liga title in his first season and quickly backed up why he was so highly regarded, blossoming into one of the best defenders in the world over the coming years.
He switched to the number two shirt ahead of his second season at the club, but would eventually get his hands on the number five shirt in 2016, by which point he was comfortably one of the best in the world. In the years that followed, the Frenchman would lift the World Cup and continue to prove imperative in propelling Real to new levels of immortality.
He finally joined United in 2021, after a decade and 18 trophies with Real Madrid. That’s the blueprint Bellingham should be striving for.