Champions League final next up for Bellingham in treble quest as Real Madrid face Dortmund

England midfielder has enjoyed stunning first season in Spain and now faces former club in Wembley showpiece

Jude Bellingham during training at the Santiago Bernabeu ahead of Real Madrid's Champions League final football match against Borussia Dortmund. AFP
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Jude Bellingham's dream first season at Real Madrid could be set for a memorable new high on Saturday when the Spanish giants attempt to become Champions League winners for a record-extending 15th time.

Real go into the clash at Wembley Stadium as overwhelming favourites against Bellingham's former club Borussia Dortmund having already secured a 36th La Liga title – another record – after finishing 10 points clear of rivals Barcelona.

Leading that charge to yet another Spanish crown was their €103 million summer signing from Germany, whose 19 goals in 28 appearances made him the surprise third top scorer in La Liga – level with Barca goal machine Robert Lewandowski and behind only Villarreal's Alexander Sorloth (23) and Artem Dovbyk (24) of third-placed Girona.

Bellingham's efforts saw him named La Liga's Player of the Season this week, beating teammate Vinicius Junior, Dovbyk, Lewandowski and Antoine Griezmann at Atletico Madrid to the award after coming top in a vote by fans, club captains and a panel of experts.

It is the second individual award of the season after the midfielder picked up the World Breakthrough of the Year prize at the Laureus World Sports Awards in April, when he made clear his target for the rest of the campaign was “more trophies” – meaning a treble of La Liga, Champions League and the European Championship with England.

It is this drive for success that has impressed his Madrid teammates. “Our fans got used to Cristiano Ronaldo, now they have Jude,” gushed Vinicius Junior. “Bellingham was born to play for Real Madrid.”

“Jude has shown to everyone what kind of player and what kind of talent he is,” hailed veteran midfielder Luka Modric this week. “But what surprised me about him, because I didn’t know him when I saw him playing and I heard the things about him, was his mentality.

“His work ethic is second to none. He is amazing every training session, every game. His winning mentality is what impressed me most apart from his football IQ.”

Real's German defender Antonio Rudiger has been equally impressed. “I have to be very honest, before, I didn’t really know much about him,” admitted the former Chelsea centre-half. “He kind of took everyone by surprise because to come here at the age of 20 and deliver like he has so far, I have to give him kudos for this.”

Next stop in his treble quest comes against the club where Bellingham made his name and showed the form that would earn the big-money move to Spain.

Bellingham made huge strides in all of his three years in Germany after moving from English second-tier side Birmingham City, showing remarkable maturity for a teenager living outside his home country for the first time, which resulted in him being included in a captaincy group alongside Marco Reus and Mats Hummels.

He was described as “the oldest 19 year old I’ve ever seen,” by manager Edin Terzic, leading out the team at that young age against Cologne in October 2022, becoming the youngest captain in German top-flight history and finished his Dortmund career with 24 goals in 132 appearances.

His final campaign saw Dortmund agonisingly miss out on the title to Bayern Munich on the final weekend, but Bellingham's form saw him named Bundesliga player of the season and Real would come calling weeks later.

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And it is a sign of just how much he has progressed in Madrid in less than a year that he already has 23 goals across all competitions with a game still to play. While his scoring exploits tailed off in the second half of the season, Bellingham still played a key role in Real's knockout stage success that saw them beat RB Leipzig, holders Manchester City and Bayern Munich all by a single goal over two legs.

And now it is Dortmund standing in the way of a La Liga and Champions League double for Real and Bellingham. “It’s such a big game, my first Champions League final, back home in England against my old team – it’s a crazy one, I couldn’t have dreamt it any better,” he told reporters this week.

“What you've seen from me this year is a lot of different kinds of roles and positions. I came here because I wanted to win, and to expect it, it's a bit greedy almost, but you have to be confident when you're playing with so many great players.”

While enduring a tough time domestically – finishing in fifth place, 27 points behind unbeaten champions Bayer Leverkusen – Dortmund have enjoyed something of a fairy-tale Champions League run.

After losing to French champions Paris Saint-Germain in the opening match of their 'Group of Death' – that also included Italian giants AC Milan and Saudi Arabian-backed English side Newcastle United – Dortmund would go on to finish top of the table.

PSV Eindhoven, Atletico Madrid and PSG were then defeated in the knockout stages to seal their final place at Wembley as they look to lift the European Cup for only a second time.

“We're up against the ultimate opponent, a team that has already won this title 14 times and five times in the last 10 years, but none of that matters,” said coach Terzic on Tuesday. “We want to boil everything down to one game and the final is just one game anyway.

“Anything is possible in one game, we've proven that, especially this season, in this competition. Even though they've won eight finals in a row, the only thing that counts is what happens in this one.”

Updated: May 31, 2024, 2:44 AM