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Jude Bellingham’s future appears closer to being decided, with Real Madrid reaching an agreement to pay Borussia Dortmund over €100million (£86m; $107m) for the midfielder, as exclusively reported by David Ornstein on The Athletic.

The 19-year-old has attracted interest from across Europe, with Manchester City and Liverpool among those who look set to miss out on him.

The deal is not yet signed but that is among the formalities that will follow, with Bellingham expected to undergo a medical in the coming days.

Here, The Athletic’s writers give more insight into the proposed transfer and what it will mean for Real Madrid, Bellingham and various other clubs.

Jude Bellingham? Remind me who he is and why I should be excited about him

England are blessed with plenty of young talent, but Bellingham stands out. Three years after his shirt was retired by his boyhood club Birmingham City — “22” because, even as a teenager, he was three players in one: a “4” (holding midfielder), an “8” (central midfielder) and a “10” (attacking midfielder) — a starting XI without him has become unthinkable at international level, too. If he stays fit and healthy, he’ll be the heart and soul of England teams for the next decade and beyond.

At Dortmund, nobody has been overly surprised about his progress. From the moment he arrived in the summer of 2020, a month after turning 17, Bellingham was ahead of schedule — running, passing and shooting with the maturity that belied his tender age. Superstar performances for Dortmund saw him captaining the side (as deputy) at 19. Few Bundesliga players were as effective as he was in the middle of the park, contributing 24 goals and 25 assists in 124 games, but his relentless drive, strong mentality and versatility in midfield cannot be measured in numbers.

Raphael Honigstein

How did Real Madrid end up winning the race for him?

Bellingham’s signing had long since ceased being a race, and instead become a matter to be resolved between just Real Madrid and Dortmund.

Liverpool were well-placed for some months but decided they could not afford him. Manchester City had a strong interest and, at one point, were optimistic. But the reality is that Bellingham wanted to wear the white shirt of Madrid.

He made this known to the Spanish giants at the end of April, expressing his eagerness to be part of a project including young players with enormous potential. Around the same time, City were also informed of this choice and played their Champions League semi-final first leg at the Bernabeu last month aware of it.

Madrid were pessimistic after the World Cup in November and December because they felt they could not compete financially with his Premier League suitors, but the player was convinced by their project, being assured he would be a pillar in the short-, medium- and long-term, as has happened in the cases of Vinicius Junior and Eduardo Camavinga.

Dortmund wanted €150million, which the  La Liga side could not afford — €100m seemed excessive to them. However, the talks have been on very good terms, including a Madrid board trip to Dortmund, given relations are excellent.

David Ornstein and Mario Cortegana

How much are they paying Dortmund, and the player?

As Dortmund have announced, Madrid have agreed to pay €103million in fixed compensation and around 30 per cent variable compensation in relation to the fixed amount (but this could take inflation into account, and is therefore in percentages rather than absolute figures). 

As for the player’s salary, although he has not gone to a Premier League club — where he was expected to earn much more money — Bellingham will occupy one of the highest salary brackets in the Madrid squad.

His salary is expected to be on an ascending scale, as is the case with some long-term contracts and especially for young players, but two Madrid sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their positions, say it will not — at least for the start of the contract — reach €10million-€12million net per year, and could be a little below.

Guillermo Rai

Where is the money coming from?

This transfer, which is expected to be paid for over several periods, will represent a negative financial burden for Real Madrid. But in the past three years, until the signing of Bellingham, they had accumulated a positive balance of €163.35million, according to Transfermarkt.

Therefore, despite the arrivals of Antonio Rudiger (free transfer) and Aurelien Tchouameni (€80million, plus variables) last summer, Madrid have been characterised by a conservative strategy in the transfer market and have not spent more than they have earned. What’s more, this has become one of the great mantras at the club since the pandemic hit three years ago and the consequent reduction in income, but above all, since the extensive, expensive renovation of their Bernabeu stadium began in 2019.

The construction of the new Bernabeu will involve a total debt of more than €1billion across two loans: the first for €575million with a fixed interest rate of 2.5 per cent for 30 years to finance the initial works, and a second for €225m with a fixed interest rate of 1.53 per cent for 27 years. 

Despite this, Madrid have managed to come out with a surplus in their previous three financial years and this year are set to make a record profit of €43.9million. This is partly due to a reduction in the total sporting wage bill (which was cut by 6.5 per cent in the first half of 2022-23 to €184.85m), the aforementioned transfer surpluses, and also the agreement with investment group Sixth Street and entertainment group Legends Hospitality, whereby Madrid received €360m in exchange for 30 per cent of the profits from concerts and other events held at the Bernabeu for 20 years.

Guillermo Rai

Does this mean they won’t be able to buy a top striker, such as Harry Kane?

Nope. Madrid, as The Athletic reported in February, have been combing the market for months to reinforce their attack. The club wanted a striker but also looked at player profiles that could adapt to the right-wing position. Not only has this not changed since, but the new development of striker Karim Benzema’s departure to Saudi Arabia has made the need for reinforcement up front more pressing.

Last Thursday, a summit meeting took place between Madrid club president Florentino Perez,  chief executive Jose Angel Sanchez and head coach Carlo Ancelotti within the club’s Valdebebas training complex. In it, Ancelotti asked for the signing of Harry Kane and the board assured him they would do everything possible to get a deal done, despite the fact serious difficulties are expected.

At that meeting, it was also said that the signing of Bellingham was on the right track, and that Ancelotti could count on having him for next season.

Mario Cortegana

And does it have a knock-on effect on next summer’s Project Mbappe aim?

Again, no. From the very moment Kylian Mbappe’s summer 2022 signing fell through, people at Real Madrid tried to maintain communication with the player and the people close to him.

Since then, with greater or lesser frequency, that has been maintained.

The objective has always been the same: if Mbappe does not renew his Paris Saint-Germain contract, and is available, for Madrid to be in a good position to consider a move and, if the circumstances are right, to get it done. However, the idea has never been that such a scenario could happen this summer. It would be a year from now, when Mbappe is expected to be a free agent.

Mario Cortegana

Does this mean an exit for Modric, or anyone else?

With the arrival of Bellingham, and if Dani Ceballos, whose contract expires this month, is eventually re-signed, Madrid will have seven first-team midfielders, including Toni Kroos, Federico Valverde, Eduardo Camavinga, Aurelien Tchouameni and Luka Modric.

Modric still has an uncertain future, despite the club’s offer to renew him until next summer, but the signing of Bellingham and the persistent interest in the Croatian, who turns 38 in September, from big-spending Saudi Arabia could change his mind.

Guillermo Rai

Where might he fit in with all Madrid’s other midfielders?

Bellingham should be able to adjust to Madrid’s tactical style without too much difficulty, having shown he is comfortable within a 4-3-3 system with clear strengths in counter-attacking play. 

His versatility to play anywhere in midfield will be a huge asset, but there is little doubt Bellingham will be the long-term replacement for Modric or Kroos (34 next season), with both now in the twilight of their careers.

While Tchouameni’s form dipped towards the end of the season, the Frenchman remains one of Madrid’s great hopes for the future at the base of midfield. Valverde’s versatility and industry mean he will be a long-term feature, too. Meanwhile, Camavinga has performed admirably at left-back for large parts of this season, as cover for the injured Ferland Mendy, but his future will also be in midfield.

By signing Tchouameni (23 years old), Camavinga (20) and eventually Bellingham (20 this month) over the past two years, Madrid have shrewdly set up a new midfield trio for the next decade, replacing the masterful Casemiro, Kroos and Modric unit that got broken up last summer.

Mark Carey

What does this mean for the midfields of Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United?

Manchester City have been given permission by Chelsea to speak to Mateo Kovacic, and the Croatian wants to join them, although a fee has yet to be discussed. City will also go for another midfielder if Ilkay Gundogan ends up leaving this summer. His contract is weeks from expiring and while City have offered him a one-year extension the German, who is 33 in October, wants a two-year deal.

Liverpool need a midfield overhaul and Bellingham was a top target, but in early April they dropped out of the race after deciding they needed to sign multiple players as part of their summer rebuild rather than commit most of their resources on a single star signing.

They are closing in on Alexis Mac Allister of Brighton, with personal terms agreed and a medical taking place. Bayern Munich’s Ryan Gravenberch, Khephren Thuram of Nice Southampton’s Romeo Lavia, Manu Kone of Borussia Monchengladbach and Celta Vigo’s Gabri Veiga have all come under consideration as Liverpool establish who is available in this window and at what price.

Manchester United’s interest in Bellingham was always more remote and long-term. Their midfield focus is on Chelsea’s Mason Mount as Erik ten Hag looks for a No 8. There is interest in Declan Rice, though a move for the West Ham United captain is not expected to happen. Everton’s Amadou Onana is on United’s recruitment list, but he is not thought to be a leading target.

David Ornstein

And what about Dortmund?

Signal Iduna Park will surely miss Bellingham’s relentless drive and charisma, as well as his great versatility on the ball.

Encouragingly, Emre Can (29) has recently emerged as a real leader thanks to solid performances in front of the defence. Fellow midfielder Salih Ozcan (25) should also grow into his role in his second season after moving from Cologne, but neither offers the dynamism, goal threat and overall impact of Bellingham.

Dortmund have long prepared themselves for the Englishman’s departure this summer, however, and they will have one if not two replacements lined up. Having nearly won the Bundesliga this season, after selling Erling Haaland last summer, Dortmund supporters will feel confident the club will invest the proceeds smartly once more, even if it’s hard to imagine they can sign anyone who’ll be as good and as young as Bellingham was.

Raphael Honigstein

(Top photo: Getty Images; design by Eamonn Dalton)



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