We’re calling it now: Jude Bellingham will win the 2024 Ballon d’Or

In Jude Bellingham, England might genuinely possess the best player in the world right now. When could you last say that?

Michael Owen was the last Englishman to lift the Ballon d’Or trophy back in 2001. But even he would probably admit he wasn’t the best player in the world at that time.

You might have to go all the way back to prime Kevin Keegan, almost half a century ago, to find an England international so clearly at the very top of the game.

English football has a well-established track record of overhyping every talented youngster who breaks onto the scene. But you look at Bellingham’s unprecedented rise and it’s almost impossible to hyperbolise.

Birmingham City retired his shirt number when he left the club at the age of 17. Within a couple of years he established himself as the Bundesliga’s standout player.

He was still a teenager when he almost dragged an otherwise distinctly ordinary Borussia Dortmund to end Bayern Munich’s 11-in-a-row streak, and you imagine they would’ve made it over the line had he been fit and available on their final game of the season.

Bellingham only turned 20 over the summer but wears his €103million fee like a badge of honour at Real Madrid.

He’s adapted to playing for the biggest club in the world like it’s no big deal, scoring vital goals in every single game as they’ve started 2023-24 with a 100% win record. He already looks like their leader. How can you overhype that?

“He has a huge maturity,” Gareth Southgate told reporters over the international break.

“He has a good emotional intelligence. He has had to go into a dressing room and an interesting dynamic where some world-class players are there and he is there to ultimately take their place but, knowing him, he will have approached them off the pitch with huge respect and will have gone into the training sessions and the games ready to compete and show what a good player he is.

“He found that balance brilliantly when he first joined us and I have no doubt that is what has happened while he has been there.”

The England coach deployed Bellingham in a deeper, more conventional midfield role in the lacklustre 1-1 draw away to Ukraine last week before replicating the advanced No.10 position he plays for Real Madrid against Scotland. It worked wonders.

There was more than a touch of fortune as Andy Robertson laid it on a plate for his goal, but he’d been involved in the build-up with some clever footwork before drifting into the dangerous area to capitalise on the Liverpool full-back’s error.

Graeme Souness had suggested pre-match that Bellingham only made it onto Southgate’s teamsheet due to playing for Real Madrid, and that James Maddison was better. But he only needed to watch Bellingham in the flesh to see the light.

“For a young man to have that kind of football brain, and he’s gifted with the genes he’s got because he’s a real athlete, a real powerhouse,” Souness responded to Bellingham’s performance in the win over Scotland.

“I just love watching him. That’s the first time I’ve seen him play [live], running onto stuff, he can do everything as a midfield player.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen him live and I just loved watching him, he is the real deal.”

Bellingham had been England’s brightest, liveliest player throughout and capped off his night’s work with an exceptional assist for England’s third. He ran rings around Ryan Christie before surging forward and playing a perfectly weighted pass into the feet of Harry Kane.

Real Madrid’s playmaker feeding Bayern Munich’s No.9. How can England not be among the contenders for Euro 2024 when they boast a combination like that?

“I wasn’t happy with how I played against Ukraine, it wasn’t anywhere near my best and the motivation is always to get back to your best,” Bellingham said in his post-match interview.

“I got somewhere close tonight.

“It’s just a freedom role really. I get given the freedom by the amazing teammates and manager that I have [at Real Madrid]. I know it depends on the system we play, and we’ve got so many amazing players to accommodate, and so the team comes first always. I really enjoyed playing in that [same] position today.”

Yes, it was only a friendly. But deploying Bellingham in the same role in which he’s thriving for Madrid is the easiest decision in the world.

Lionel Messi looks set to claim a record-extending eighth Ballon d’Or later this year after inspiring Argentina to World Cup glory. That will surely close the book on the Messi & Ronaldo era for good as they close out their careers in America and Saudi Arabia.

Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland have long been spoken of as their successors, but Bellingham possesses everything to make a new era his. The stage is set for Champions League & Euro 2024 glory.

By Nestor Waatch

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