An audience with Jude Bellingham: Why he chose Real Madrid, his form and how to beat City

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An audience with Jude Bellingham: Why he chose Real Madrid, his form and how to beat City

The Etihad Stadium’s press room was packed. Around 40 Spanish journalists and photographers were squeezed in for Real Madrid’s pre-match press conference ahead of the Champions League decider against Manchester City.

It would have been a big occasion regardless, with the tie delicately poised at 3-3 from the first leg. But there was another reason for the interest: Jude Bellingham was appearing for the first time this season in front of the media. He had only done so once since joining Real Madrid – 10 months ago, at his formal presentation as the club’s new signing.

Since then, Bellingham’s media appearances have been rare. He spoke to a few journalists in a mixed zone during Madrid’s US tour and, before the first El Clasico in October 2023, he gave a five-minute interview to Spanish public television (TVE). So his appearance here on Tuesday evening was a surprise.

Bellingham’s star billing inevitably led to some chaos – so great were the numbers, there was not enough translation equipment to go round all the Spanish media – but he dealt with it with his customary style.

As The Athletic reported yesterday, Bellingham spoke compellingly about the problem of racism in football, and why the authorities were not doing enough to combat it. But he also addressed other issues – his Madrid career, his transfer last summer, his role in the team and relationship with Carlo Ancelotti.

Here, we highlight Bellingham’s most revealing answers – and what they meant.

Why he chose Madrid over the Premier League: ‘I didn’t think twice’

Bellingham’s appearance in Manchester inevitably prompted questions over his decision to choose Madrid over Premier League clubs last summer.

As previously reported by The Athletic, Bellingham had interest from Liverpool and City themselves, but he was forthright when explaining his thought process.

“I spoke to a lot of clubs in Dortmund,” the 20-year-old said. “My family helped me a lot to process the information because it is difficult when you are playing in a season. The support of my family helped me a lot.

“I had good conversations with other teams, but when Madrid called me, I didn’t think twice. How big the club is, the opportunity to play with very good players, the project for the future… I feel grateful every time I have the crest on my chest on the way to training. It’s wonderful, I won’t get tired of it.”



Jude Bellingham’s Real Madrid transfer: Patience, persistence and powers of persuasion

His dip in performance: ‘I don’t mind criticism’

Bellingham is enduring the first minor wobble of his Madrid career.

He scored 17 goals in his first 20 games at the club but has managed only three in his last 13, the result of some injury issues – particularly with his ankle – and the impossibility of maintaining such a sky-high standard.

“I think I did the first part of the season very well until January, winning the (Spanish) Super Cup, but what affected me was the injury in Girona (in February),” Bellingham said. “I missed a lot of games but I finally got over that and scored against Valencia, and then I got suspended. I think it has affected my performance.

Jude Bellingham leaves the field against Girona with an ankle injury (Florencia Tan Jun/Getty Images)

“But I will have to recover from this. I don’t mind the criticism, what matters is how you respond.”

Bellingham admits that his first few months exceeded all his expectations prior to his arrival from Spain.

“I didn’t expect to score so many goals but now that I’m here I want to keep taking responsibility,” he added. “As for my goal, I’m not one to set challenges. I got 20 and hopefully I will score more this season.”

His change of role at Madrid: ‘You have to adapt’

Bellingham has not had one fixed position at Madrid, and has instead been asked to cover a multitude of different positions, including midfield and as a No 10.

But the England international insists he has no problem with being asked to be flexible. “I think changes are normal when there are injuries and you have to adapt,” he said. “It has worked well this year. But for me I have shown that I can play in several positions. It’s the first time I’ve played as a No 10. Sometimes it’s little things that take a little bit of time to get used to but it’s about finding those experiences.

“One thing at the beginning of the season is that I was playing all the time and I was very clear about what I had to do, the little things I had to change and work a little bit more for the team.”

Working with Ancelotti: ‘He makes me feel better’

Asked whether Carlo Ancelotti has been the best coach he has ever had, Bellingham was in no doubt.

“I think yes,” he replied. “The sign of a coach is to make you feel better than you were before. He makes me feel better, he gives me the freedom to express myself and be as effective as possible.

“He has been amazing in helping me adapt to the team. And he is a very good person. I’m very grateful for what he’s done to me.”

Bellingham says he has huge respect for Carlo Ancelotti (Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)

How to approach the City game: ‘Be brave’

Bellingham was not at Madrid when they suffered a painful 4-0 defeat at City in last season’s Champions League, but he is not oblivious to the impact it had.

“I spoke to the guys from last year and they say it was not a good feeling at all” he said. “I understand the frustration, I’ve experienced tough defeats myself. But you have to calm that emotion down. You have to be brave and play.

“I think (the most dangerous thing) is City’s unpredictability. You focus on one player and there are 10 more who can create problems for you. I think it’s about attacking as a team. We have to be true to who we are. I don’t know who the favourites are, but we are Real Madrid.”

(Top photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)