Jude Bellingham seen celebrating a goal during the LaLiga EA Sports 2023/2024 match between UD Almeria and Real Madrid at Power Horse Stadium.Final Score: UD Almeria 1:3 Real Madrid

F*cking hell: Jude Bellingham might just be the best footballer in the world

There was a time in the not-too-distant past that La Liga was the place to watch the world’s greatest footballers. 

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo slugging it out at the peak of their powers. The core of Spain’s era-defining national team. Casemiro, Toni Kroos, Luka Modric. Luis Suarez, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema. The star power was off the charts.

Ten years ago it would’ve been unthinkable that the Saudi Pro League would outspend the Spanish top flight in terms of transfer fees and quickly overtake it in terms of boasting household names.

Saudi clubs might have unthinkable spending power behind them, but Real Madrid offer a level of prestige that no money can buy. Signing for Los Blancos is arguably the very zenith of where you can go in the club game.

Jude Bellingham only turned 20 in June and his prodigious rise has seen him scale that mountain already. Yet on the evidence of his first couple of appearances for Madrid, he’s determined to scale further heights yet.

Not every superstar signing that arrives at the Bernabeu can live up to their billing. Their last €100million addition – Eden Hazard – was a spectacular disappointment that saw his contract terminated a year early. Bellingham, on the other hand, has strolled into Carlo Ancelotti’s as if he’s having a kickabout on Hackney Marshes.

He already looks like a leader for the biggest club in world football. Reminder: he’s 20 – twenty – years old. He was not even alive when Zinedine Zidane stopped time at Hampden Park.

Having marked his debut with a goal and a man-of-the-match performance on his competitive debut, his sophomore appearance didn’t disappoint – it was Bellingham that took responsibility and got Madrid back into it after they went behind early away at Almeria.

The equaliser wasn’t exactly spectacular. Scruffy enough with question marks of both offside and handball, the goal stood – and stood as testament to Bellingham’s remarkable attacking instincts.

Capitalising on his own ricochet, the midfielder has shown he has that right-place-right-time intuition of great centre-forwards.

And there was yet more evidence that he can compensate for Madrid’s lack of a proper No.9 by drifting into the box and heading home from the six-yard box like Ronaldo in his prime.

Bellingham has three goals and one assist in his first two La Liga outings. He’s one goal off matching Hazard’s league goals tally across four years in the Spanish capital.

“I think I’m 10-times better as a player than last season. I’m learning from these players. The level here is so high, I’m like a sponge taking it all in,” said Bellingham after the final whistle.

“I saw [Real Madrid comebacks] a lot of times on TV when I was a kid. I remember thinking ‘they won’t be able to do it’ and in the end they did. Now I’m here and I’m seeing it. I never thought we were going to lose, I looked at the players’ faces and there was no panic.”

Matches against Athletic Bilbao and Almeria won’t define Bellingham’s time at the Bernabeu. He has the Clasicos and European nights under the floodlights to come. But it was faltering in those bread-and-butter league outings that saw Madrid finish 10 points behind Barcelona last season and their new star man seems anything but complacent.

The current Ballon d’Or holder has moved to Saudi Arabia. The hot favourite for this year’s is tearing it up in America. Slowly but surely elite-level football may become less unipolar.

But there’s no world in which Real Madrid aren’t at the footballing epicentre. And in Jude Bellingham they might just have the next best player in the world. Believe the hype.

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