OLIVER HOLT: Jude Bellingham is Il Fenomeno, the King of Madrid and the impact he is having in Spain feels almost other-worldly after El Clasico heroics… he is only 20 yet he is taking European football by storm
One after the other, Carlo Ancelotti and Xavi, walked from the home and away changing rooms at the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys and took their turn in front of the media. One of them has a claim to be the greatest manager we have ever seen. The other was one of the greatest players. Between them, they have seen a few things in this game.
Even for them, this must have felt a little different. Even for them, they must have felt they had witnessed something special. The questions from the Spanish media reflected that. They came fast and breathlessly and, without apology, they had the same relentless, almost disbelieving, theme: Bellingham, Bellingham, Bellingham, Bellingham, Bellingham.
Jude Bellingham, the 20-year-old Englishman that many believe to be the best player in the world at the moment, had done it again. In his first appearance in El Clasico, he had carried his fretful Madrid team on his shoulders and lifted them to a stunning comeback victory with two brilliantly-taken goals.
In the process, he became only the fifth Englishman to score in the world’s biggest club game – the others are Laurie Cunningham, Gary Lineker, Steve McManaman and Michael Owen – and took his tally since he moved to the Bernabeu in the summer to 13 goals in 13 games. The win took Madrid back to the top of La Liga.
The impact that Bellingham is having on Madrid feels almost other-worldly. In England, we are not particularly used to our players travelling well. Lineker and McManaman were great successes in Spain but neither of them had quite the same transformative effect on their team that Bellingham is having.
The impact that Jude Bellingham is having at Real Madrid this season feels other-worldly
The England star scored a long range equaliser and an injury time winner against Barcelona
Gary Lineker is one of four other English players to score in an El Clasico, though none of them had the transformative impact that Bellingham is having on Real Madrid so far this season
Neither of them were just out of their teens, either. Bellingham is something else. When you watch him play, you feel like you are watching LeBron James in high school basketball. You feel as if you are witnessing the emergence of one of the great talents to have graced our game.
This is not Birmingham City or even Borussia Dortmund that Bellingham is carrying on his shoulders. This is Real Madrid. The biggest club in the world. And Bellingham is making it look as if he is too good for them. If he carries on like this, soon there will be no worlds left to conquer.
Does that sound too much like getting carried away? Maybe. Sometimes, circumstance and injury can interrupt the best careers. But, as Ange Postecoglou said after Spurs’ latest win on Friday night, ‘let them dream’. Let us dream. Let us surf this wave with Bellingham while we can because it’s a privilege to be on the ride with him.
The match, the 189th Clasico, took place on a glorious autumn day high on the hill of Montjuic, overlooking the city, in the stadium where, at the start of the 1992 Games, an archer had ignited the cauldron by shooting an arrow lit from the Olympic flame. This time, it was Bellingham’s turn to set the occasion on fire.
The Nou Camp is at the start of a £1.6bn renovation that will take 18 months to complete and when fans walked past its shell on Saturday morning, their conversation was drowned out by the sound of pneumatic drills. Later in the day, they ran into another kind of wrecking ball, by the name of Jude.
Madrid had fallen behind early in the game after some weak defending from David Alaba had allowed Ilkay Gundogan to dance through and side-foot a neat finish past Kepa Arrizabalaga.
But then midway through the second half, as the match seemed to be descending into an underwhelming war of attrition, Bellingham, who had been wrapped in cotton wool before the match after sustaining a minor injury at the end of the Champions League tie against Braga last week, took control and turned the game on its head.
Bellingham has that knack that great players have of making something difficult look easy. He did it recently when he waltzed through the Napoli defence. He did it at Wembley when he turned the tide of England’s Euro24 qualifier against Italy. And now he did it again.
Bellingham is still only 20-years-old yet he he is taking European football by storm in Madrid
There seemed little danger when Barcelona half-cleared an aimless ball but when it fell to Bellingham on the edge of the Barcelona area, he darted to his right, made room to shoot and unleashed a venomous shot that caught Marc-Andre Ter Stegen by surprise.
Bellingham turned away as if it were simply business as usual. But when he timed his run perfectly to meet a deflected cross from Dani Carvajal in the second minute of time added on, and prod it through the legs of Ter Stegen for the winner, he sauntered over to the corner of the pitch and stood with his legs planted and his arms outstretched, nodding his head in triumph towards the home fans.
When the last, desperate Barcelona attack had been defended and the final whistle blew, only then did he really let the mask slip to reveal his ecstasy. Bellingham sank to his knees in the Madrid penalty area and raised his arms to the skies in a gesture of pure wonderment.
Soon, he was enveloped by his teammates. Luka Modric was the first to embrace him. Then it was Antonio Rudiger, who is not a man easily impressed. Rudiger beckoned a camera crew over from the touchline and pointed them in Bellingham’s direction.
Bellingham made a huge impact in what was just his first El Clasico since joining in the summer
When Bellingham finally emerged from the mass of celebration, he began to march purposefully towards the opposite end of the Estadi Olimpic where a small number of Madrid fans stood cheering and yelling.
The rest of the stadium had fallen silent. Bellingham had quietened them. The new hero of the Madridistas saluted them, pumping his fists in the air and clutching at the badge on his jersey before striding back towards the tunnel.
As he passed beneath knots of Barcelona fans who gazed sullenly down at him, Bellingham cupped his hand to his left ear as if to ask them where their jeers and their catcalls had gone. They did not have an answer. Where Bellingham is concerned, no one seems to have an answer.
The kid is something else. He is The Natural. He is Il Fenomeno. He is the King of Madrid. He is all the football fairy stories of generational talent you have ever heard rolled into one. He is still only 20 and he is taking European football by storm.
After the match, the Real Madrid X site mocked up a picture of Bellingham as an English newspaper seller with a flat cap and a copy of the Real Madrid Chronicle tucked under his arm. ‘Jude Does It Again,’ the headline said.