Jude Bellingham is likely to be the hottest property of 2023. Here’s why he’ll join Liverpool, Man Utd, City, Chelsea and Real Madrid. And why he won’t…
Why he’ll join Liverpool: Since it first became clear from his performances in the Bundesliga that Bellingham was really bloody special, it seemed Liverpool were nailed on to be the club to take him off Borussia Dortmund’s hands. That may yet still be the case…
Liverpool are crying out for a midfielder – probably two – and Jurgen Klopp kept his powder dry last summer to wait for Bellingham. Dortmund weren’t ready to sell this year, with Erling Haaland first in line for his big move. Next summer, though, when Klopp can’t even pretend that he doesn’t need to spend big on his midfield, Bellingham will be on the market and the Reds will be waiting to smash their piggy bank.
Klopp’s Dortmund connections can’t hurt, even if the Germans have already stated that Liverpool won’t get preferential treatment. But the Reds have played the long game – with Dortmund and Bellingham – and Anfield would be an attractive proposition, with Klopp committed for three more years beyond next summer.
Given the fee likely to be involved, it would represent quite a shift in transfer policy, but Liverpool aren’t averse to paying big money when absolutely necessary, evidenced by the record amounts coughed up for Virgil van Dijk and Alisson. “We have to buy premium and use the Academy. Liverpool deserves a process like this,” wrote Pep Lijnders in his book ‘Intensity’. Which sounds a little like Real’s ‘Zidanes y Pavones’ approach, but Bellingham would certainly fall into the ‘premium’ category.
Why he won’t: As much as Liverpool are willing to break the bank occasionally, Bellingham might now be a little too rich for their taste. Especially if they haven’t been bought before next summer by someone with deeper pockets than FSG.
If the Bellingham sale echoed that of Haaland, where the price was set and clubs had to sell themselves to the player and his entourage, then Liverpool might be favourites. But a bidding war is likely to break out for Bellingham and pre-takeover Liverpool – in terms of will more than means – may struggle to compete.
Perhaps patience hasn’t paid in this instance. Maybe Liverpool should have been more insistent and decisive in moving for Bellingham last summer, regardless of Dortmund’s determination not to wave off the England midfielder as well as Haaland. The Reds are certainly still in with a shout, but the fact they are looking hard for alternatives suggests they are rather less confident than they once were.
Why he will join United: In Casemiro, United finally bought a world-class midfielder and Christian Eriksen falls into a similar category. But Erik ten Hag undeniably still has work to do on his engine room, and Bellingham has reportedly become a priority for United.
There is no question that United are becoming a more attractive proposition than they were prior to Ten Hag’s arrival. Before this season, Bellingham would almost certainly swerve Old Trafford – for the second time in his career.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Bryan Robson and Eric Cantona all met Bellingham and his parents at Carrington in 2020, at which point United were too content to trade on their history; Bellingham saw a brighter future at Dortmund and it proved to be a savvy move.
But under Ten Hag, and potentially under new ownership, United could be a more tempting proposition for Bellingham, who could become the new face of the Red Devils. United have the means to pay whatever transpires to be the going rate; the question is whether they are willing.
Why he won’t: United might be up for sale but there remains a strong possibility that should Bellingham meet with them again before the summer, it will be Joel and Avram Glazer still signing the cheques. Only when they absolutely must, of course. And the Glazers aren’t likely to sign off on an investment that will pay dividends for someone else.
United have a similar problem to Liverpool in that respect – uncertainty over their future direction. Either club could be bought in the coming months and their outlook could change dramatically. Or they could be stuck in a limbo that suits nobody.
The Red Devils need regime change more urgently than Liverpool. The Anfield club have been run, in respect of their football activities, very astutely and Bellingham could go there reasonably secure in his surroundings. Until the Glazers are gone, United will remain tarnished by their ineptitude and that of those they hired around them. Bellingham (nor any player in such demand) is unlikely to want any part in that.
Bellingham will surely look at the longer-term picture, but a failure to qualify for the Champions League next season would see United make their pitch from a weaker position. Similar goes for Liverpool, with the two rivals currently fifth and sixth respectively.
Why he will join Chelsea: Because Todd Boehly wants it to happen. And billionaire sporting directors tend to get what they want…
Apparently, Boehly is ‘obsessed’ by the idea of bringing Bellingham to Stamford Bridge. And Chelsea’s midfield certainly needs some attention being lavished upon it. N’Golo Kante and Jorginho are both set to leave next summer, when Dennis Zakaria will be returned to Juventus.
Given Graham Potter’s midfield concerns, you might argue that Chelsea need him more than any other suitor. Such desperation, coupled with Boehly’s drive, could lead to the Blues doing something spectacular.
Chelsea were reported to have told Dortmund that they would pay over the odds for Bellingham, with £90million mentioned. Which now seems ludicrous.
Why he won’t: As you may have noticed, we’re struggling to make a case for Bellingham choosing Chelsea over the other options he’s sure to have.
It doesn’t even matter that Chelsea were prepared to pay over the asking price – that was back in October and £90million is now unlikely to get them even a meeting. That doesn’t mean the Blues won’t be among the bidders, but Boehly is unlikely to impress Dortmund ahead of United, City or Real.
The one advantage Chelsea often have in luring players is the appeal of living in London. But reports suggest that isn’t a factor for Bellingham, with perhaps the opposite true. One report said the teenager, born and bred in the Midlands, doesn’t fancy moving to the capital.
Why he’ll join City: The champions are doing that thing they do, lurking in the background until they sense their moment to pounce. Much like they did with Haaland. And it’s hard to shake the inevitability they won’t do the same again with Bellingham.
Of course, they have the means and the signing of Jack Grealish indicated a change of tack from when City were reluctant to spend mega-money on one player, preferring to hover around the £60million mark.
The lure of playing with Grealish, Phil Foden and Kalvin Phillips is likely to be strong, even if he will encounter England team-mates at any of the Premier League clubs looking to land his signature. And, of course, Bellingham is almost guaranteed to win titles and trophies with City. Even more so if he joins.
As Rio Ferdinand suggests, Bellingham could follow the Haaland blueprint: Dortmund to City, then on to Real in a few seasons. Assuming Real’s interest remains.
Then there is the Pep Guardiola factor. Players want to play for Pep and now he’s committed to City until 2025, Bellingham would be guaranteed at least two seasons under the Catalan coach.
Why he won’t: It’s genuinely hard to think of a reason why signing for Manchester City would not be a good idea for Bellingham.
Might it be too easy? The obvious target for City is their first Champions League title but would Bellingham be a game-changer for City in the same way he would for Liverpool, United and Chelsea? Nope.
Those clubs can only hope City’s strength works against them in this instance. At Anfield, Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge, Bellingham could become the face of each club, the driving force for a better future. At the Etihad, he’d be another cog, though a bloody big and important one, in Pep’s winning machine. That would appeal to many players. Perhaps Bellingham fancies making more of a difference with his next move. Everyone else need hope so.
Why he’ll join Real: It takes a brave boy to turn down Real f***ing Madrid…
However we might view Liverpool, United and Chelsea, there are only really two clubs in the world for whom everyone wants to play: Real and Barcelona. Before Barca become a basket case.
Perhaps English players have been more reluctant to move abroad in the past but the new generation seems a lot more open to playing in foreign climes and Bellingham has already proved his willingness to try a new country, language and lifestyle by moving from Birmingham to Dortmund as a 17-year-old.
If Bellingham wants to fulfil his potential as one of the best midfielders on the planet, there is no better place than the Bernabeu. Real breed Ballon d’Or winners and Bellingham has made no secret of his desire to hit such heights. Even if he went to Real, played in the same future-proof midfield as Aurelien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga, Federico Valverde and, for some unlikely reason, it didn’t work out, he would almost certainly have the same Premier League options further down the line. Can he be certain he will still have the option to join Real further down the line? Florentino Perez isn’t a man who appreciates a custard pie.
Why he won’t: Are Real as keen as we’re led to believe?
Carlo Ancelotti has already overseen a remodelling of Real’s midfield, with Casemiro gone and Luka Modric and Toni Kroos each coming to the end of their reigns in Spain. Tchouameni and Camavinga have been recruited, with Valverde coming up through the ranks.
Real’s main priority now is to supplement their forward line. And reports suggest they are planning to go big in 2024 for Haaland, with Rafael Leao asked to wait until then when he becomes a free agent.
So are they willing to spend massive money on another midfielder, especially when they can source depth from elsewhere for much less than the price Bellingham is likely to go for?
If Real are serious about Bellingham, he probably goes to Madrid. But their need is not as great as his other suitors’. How determined would they be if Liverpool, United, Chelsea and City drag them into a bidding war?