In-tune Jude Bellingham directing Borussia Dortmund symphony
After a stand-out season to remember, Borussia Dortmund's magnificent midfielder, Jude Bellingham, is closer than ever to getting his hands on German football's greatest prize.
“With the team that we've got, if we all step up our game a little bit more, we can really do something special in the second half of the season.” - Jude Bellingham, January 2023.
Sitting down to speak with Borussia Dortmund’s media team at the beginning of the year, the England midfielder cut a frustrated yet determined figure. BVB went into the FIFA World Cup break the previous November having lost 4-2 against Borussia Mönchengladbach, a result that left them sixth in the standings, and with plenty of time ahead to lick their wounds.
“I feel in terms of quality, in terms of the player depth and in positions, we should be a lot higher than we are. I'm not afraid to say that to the lads and to the staff because that's where our ambition should be,” Bellingham added in that January interview. “But it's about doing instead of talking. I'm really, really motivated to turn it around.”
Watch: BVB warrior, Jude Bellingham
Fast forward to a little over four months later and Dortmund are one game away from winning a sixth Bundesliga title, with Bellingham’s immense drive and focus considerable factors in bringing the Black-and-Yellows to the gates of glory.
Since tasting DFB Cup triumph with Dortmund in 2021, the 19-year-old has been ravenous in his desire to bring more honours to the Bundesliga giants. That eagerness has seen the former Birmingham City star – now in his third season in North Rhine-Westphalia – progress at an astounding rate.
A household name in the game the world over, for many, there remains an air of disbelief that Bellingham is still a teenager. “He's the oldest 19-year-old player in the world,” Dortmund coach Edin Terzic said this season. “It's extraordinary to play such consistent football at that age,” the tactician added.
The numbers posted in 2022/23 have been Bellingham’s best yet in the Bundesliga. Praised during his Birmingham days as a player with exceptional ability to win the ball back, the midfielder has since become the German top-flight’s supreme tackler, leading the division’s duels won standings this term with 482.
His Bundesliga goals tally has also increased to a personal best eight for the season and having added four assists, Bellingham’s 12 goal contributions have brought significant heft to Dortmund’s title push.
“Every year or half year that I've played at the club, my responsibility in the team has increased,” he explained. “I have to continue to be everywhere on the pitch and try my best to contribute going forwards and backwards and try and control games, try to dominate the midfield.”
Watch: Bellingham the ball winner
Unafraid to voice his opinion to teammates almost twice his age, Bellingham has since remoulded that burning desire for those around him to follow his never say die attitude into a force for positive encouragement. This season, he was named Dortmund’s youngest-ever captain, an honour that appeared to hasten his already impressive evolution.
“My teammates, the coaches and the staff have helped me to develop,” Bellingham explained. “I came to the club as a talented lad, but I have added elements to my game that have taken it to the next level and I think that's down to them, mainly.
"I've put the work in, but it's them that have put me in the environment to make it happen. They've added a kind of leadership side to my game too," he continued. "I want my teammates to see that I’m always doing everything I can to make sure we win. If we lose a game, I'm the worst person.”
In the second half of this season, losses have been few and far between for Dortmund. Bellingham helped Borussia burst out of the blocks in the team’s first game this year. He scored Dortmund’s opening goal in a dramatic 4-3 victory at home against Augsburg while his late assist in the same game for Gio Reyna led to the match winner.
That result sparked an incredible ten-game winning run in all competitions, by the end of which, Die Schwarzgelben were joint-top of the Bundesliga with Bayern. "We went on a really good run starting the New Year, and that’s great, but we knew there would be a hit or a down moment that we’d have to face, and we faced it well," Bellingham told bundesliga.com. "Maybe the last five or six games were when we have shown really good character, even amongst the bad performances and the bad results it’s been really good to see a Dortmund team show that kind of fight after a low.”
With fellow talented youngsters like Karim Adeyemi, Youssoufa Moukoko and Jamie Bynoe-Gittens making hay, Bellingham’s graceful running and solid tackling helped bridge the gap between high-flying youth and BVB’s more experienced players. Rarely pausing to take breath, the Birmingham native’s 2,526 intensive runs and 884 sprints – both in the league’s top five rankings – are evidence of his tireless workrate during Borussia's run to the top.
Watch: Bellingham & Haller inspire BVB revival
It is a commonly known story that the reason behind Bellingham’s liking for the No. 22 shirt is because his coach at Birmingham City saw him as a player with the skillset to play as a 10, as an eight and as a four. Add all of those digits up, and you have the number printed on the back of many a Dortmund fan’s Black-and-Yellow shirt. It is no exaggeration to say that, this season, Bellingham has shown flashes of the characteristics of some iconic players to have worn those numbers: the grace of a forward moving Zinedine Zidane, for example, or the tough tackling and determination of a Steven Gerrard or Patrick Vieira.
Little wonder, then, that England’s youngest player to appear at a senior international competition was recently voted into the Bundesliga’s Team of the Season for a second successive campaign, this time joined by fellow BVB teammates Nico Schlotterbeck and Julian Brandt. Deserved recognition for a season of colossal effort, but especially so in the second half of a campaign that has seen BVB pick up 12 wins, three draws and just one loss in 16 top-flight games.
If just one more victory at home against Mainz arrives on Saturday, the Signal Iduna Park will lift from its foundations. "For us, it’s really important that we play the game and not the occasion," Bellingham insisted. "We turn up and we prepare to try and beat Mainz, we don’t prepare to lift the trophy or play against all the pressure that we’ve got on us," he continued.
"I look at everyone’s faces in this last week, and everyone looks motivated, everyone looks right up for it, everyone looks ready to embrace the challenge and make one big step towards history.”
Whatever happens, the songs rolling down from the Yellow Wall will be many and will include one that was dedicated to Bellingham by his Dortmund teammates on his arrival at the club back in 2020.
“Hey Jude by The Beatles – [it was a] superb idea,” the midfielder reminisced of his introduction to the BVB dressing-room. “The first thought that came to my mind was: how on earth did they manage to persuade the lads to do that?” Now, after several seasons wearing those famous colours of Black-and-Yellow, the whole world is singing Jude Bellingham's praises.
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