When Jude Bellingham was at the peak of his powers during the World Cup with England, Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti had his say on where he ranks as one of the best young midfielders in the world.
“Bellingham is one of them,” the Italian said. “But I’ll stick with my midfielders, who are very good, especially the youngsters.”
It was a reminder, despite Bellingham being one of the most sought-after midfielders ahead of this summer transfer window, that Real Madrid are a club with plenty of pedigree in that position.
The Spanish giants are blessed with a wide range of young midfielders. Last year, Aurelien Tchouameni, 23, signed a six-year deal after joining for £68m from Monaco, Eduardo Camavinga, 20, arrived 12 months earlier for a £35m fee from Rennes, while Federico Valverde, 24, is closing in on 200 appearances for the club.
Add in Luka Modric, 37, and Toni Kroos, 33, who despite having a combined age of 70 are still vital to this Real side competing on multiple fronts this season, and Real have the perfect blend of youth and experience in midfield, with Dani Ceballos one of Ancelotti’s surprise talents of the season at the age of 26.
Bellingham, however, is closing in on a move to Real Madrid after the Spanish side struck a deal with Borussia Dortmund worth an initial £88.5m.
The 19-year-old moved to Germany from boyhood club Birmingham in 2020 and has long dreamt of moving to the LaLiga giants.
Dortmund have confirmed in a statement that the Spanish side have agreed to pay €103m (£88.5m) for the England star, with an additional amount of around 30 per cent of that fixed fee agreed. If those add-ons are achieved, the deal could reach €133.9m (£115m).
Why Bellingham deal makes sense
So where does Bellingham fit in? Is he even guaranteed a place in the Real starting line-up?
“I do think it’s a good fit for him,” LaLigaTV presenter Semra Hunter tells Sky Sports News. “But whether he walks into the team? No, I don’t think that’s the case.”
After all, Kroos and Modric still play for Real in the biggest games, including their recent Champions League triumphs, alongside Valverde in the midfield. Both Kroos and Modric are set to sign new contract extensions and if Ancelotti remains as Real manager for next season then a widespread change in midfield is going to take some doing.
Speaking earlier in the season about how Kroos, Modric and striker Karim Benzema, 35, continue to thrive at Real Madrid, Ancelotti said: “People might think they don’t have as much energy as the youngsters, but the way these three manage the games is unique, it’s priceless and you can’t buy it in the whole international market.
“They have something only experience can give you. Yes, being older takes some things away from you but it gives you some other things too.”
In fact, it is difficult to see any of the Real midfield leaving the club should Bellingham join. Ancelotti is a huge fan of Ceballos and revealed earlier this year that he “thinks” the former Arsenal midfielder will commit to a new contract alongside Kroos and Modric in the coming months.
“There are seven Real players who are up for contract renewals in the summer – Modric, Kroos and Ceballos. All three of them are very likely to extend for one year, maybe even two.
“There will be, in the short-term, stiff competition in the midfield for Bellingham,” says Hunter. “But that being said, Kroos does not have a long-term replacement in the side and Bellingham is probably the closest thing to a long-term replacement for the German.”
There are two things that 19-year-old Bellingham has over the Real midfielders – age and his own skillset.
“So there will be rotations and there will certainly be some midfield over-booking in the short-term,” adds Hunter.
“But in the long run, Bellingham certainly will have a lot of opportunities to play, to become a regular fixture and starter.
“It’s a brilliant place for him to continue developing his game. He’s in the mould of what Real are after: snapping up young talent at around 18, 19 and 20 years of age and continuing to develop them for the long-term and have them for 10 to 15 years.”
And, of course, Bellingham brings a style of play that the other Real midfielders do not.
All of the Real options have better passing and chance creation stats than Bellingham this season – owing to the fact that the LaLiga side hold more of the ball than Dortmund do. That is also why Bellingham’s defensive and pressing stats rank higher than any Real midfielder.
But even with less of the ball, Bellingham does impress in attacking areas. The England international has completed more take-ons, through balls and shots than any Real midfielder which shows he is more of an attacking option compared to what Ancelotti already has.
Whether Bellingham would be valued higher – or potentially better off – heading to the Premier League to continue his football journey, only time will tell.
But the teenager has shown in recent years that he does not need his native country to grow his stock. And clubs do not come much grander than Real.