Jude Bellingham - From Birmingham City to the UEFA Champions League final

  • Bellingham started his career at Birmingham City
  • He is now regarded as one of the best footballers in the world thanks to his performances with Real Madrid
  • The youngster will play in his first ever Champions League final this weekend
THE JUDE BELLINGHAM STORY ⭐ Birmingham STAR BOY to Real Madrid GALÁCTICO | Champions League Final
THE JUDE BELLINGHAM STORY ⭐ Birmingham STAR BOY to Real Madrid GALÁCTICO | Champions League Final / 90min Football

A £100m+ transfer, an iconic celebration, El Clasico goals, late winner after late winner after late winner, a La Liga title, a Champions League final and even a retired jersey.

He's the best player in Madrid, the best player in Spain, and arguably the best player in the world - and he's all of this before turning 21.

Yes, of course we're talking about Jude Bellingham - a footballer who seems like he's from another planet, sent to Earth to conquer the beautiful game and head back home with the UEFA Champions League trophy and the Ballon d'Or in his luggage.

Where he's actually from is Birmingham and, more specifically, Birmingham City Football Club. A team considered to be the second biggest in its own city, and a team who have won just two major trophies ever.

So how did such a club cultivate the leader of a new Galaticos era at Real Madrid?

Youth career

Born and raised in Stourbridge, a tiny town on the outskirts of Birmingham, Bellingham's football career began at Stourbridge Juniors, a team created by his dad Mark. It wasn't too long until his boyhood club Birmingham City came calling, though, with academy scouts spotting his talents early and snapping him up aged just eight.

As you can probably guess given that he's now 20 and playing for Real Madrid, a young Bellingham progressed through the Birmingham City youth system at a rapid rate. Playing for the under-18s aged 14, then the under-23s by 15 - even scoring a winning goal against Nottingham Forest at that level - it was only a matter of time before his senior debut.

Birmingham City

And sure enough, after being integrated into the first-team setup in pre-season, at just 16 years and 38 days old, Bellingham made his senior footballing debut in an EFL Cup first round defeat to Portsmouth.

Humble beginnings, to say the least.

Speaking about seeing Bellingham's debut from the sidelines, ex-Portsmouth man Gareth Evans told Sun Sport: "We were preparing for a Carabao Cup first-round game and there was a deafening buzz surrounding some 16-year-old lad that was making his first appearance for Birmingham City that night.

"'He’s quick, agile, has lightning-fast feet and he can pick a pass,' I remember was the memo in our team talk from boss Kenny Jackett.

"I thought it was all a bit over the top but given that I was on the bench I had the perfect view of what this kid was all about. After five minutes I’d seen enough. You could just tell that he was going to be exceptional."

25 days after becoming the club's youngest-ever player, Bellingham became the club's youngest-ever goalscorer too, netting the winner against Stoke City in the Championship. Yep, he could do it on a cold rainy day in Stoke, even at 16 years old.

The midfielder cemented his place in the Birmingham City starting XI from then on, playing 41 Championship games in his debut campaign and winning the EFL Young Player of the Season award thanks his impressive outings.

As expected, those outings began to catch the eyes of some of Europe's biggest clubs.

Jude Bellingham
Early career / Richard Heathcote/GettyImages

Perhaps the most notable two were Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund. The former rolled out the red carpet to try and convince the midfielder to join back in 2020, with Sir Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona and Bryan Robson all being enlisted to help with the sales pitch.

The latter had the track record of developing the new generation of young England stars to help convince Bellingham to up sticks and move to Germany, with Jadon Sancho successfully doing so a few years prior.

In the end, Bellingham opted for Borussia Dortmund - much to the disappointment of Man Utd fans and legends alike.

"It was really disappointing," Robson recalled to The Telegraph. "We were at Carrington and Sir Alex Ferguson was there a little earlier than I was, but Eric [Cantona] and I met him, and his mum and dad, we were chatting away.

"It was really looking promising that he was going to be signing for Manchester United. Me and Eric did a rubbish job as he signed for Borussia [Dortmund]. We thought we had him in the bag."

Borussia Dortmund

Bellingham's move to Borussia Dortmund hit the headlines for plenty of reasons.

One was the fee, £25m - a record amount spent on a 17-year-old. Another was Dortmund's ability to coax young English talents away from their domestic footballing pyramid and over to the Bundesliga. And another, and perhaps the main reason, was Birmingham's decision to retire his number 22 jersey after his departure "to remember one of our own and to inspire others".

Football Twitter (before it was called X) expectedly had a field day with that one.

Fast forward four years though and, considering the player he has become, it's pretty hard to argue with Birmingham's decision to do so.

After a short settling-in period in north-west Germany, just like at Birmingham City, the club records soon began to tumble.

Jude Bellingham, Thorgan Hazard
Bellingham at Dortmund / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

In his debut for the club in the DFB-Pokal clash with MSV Duisburg, he became the club’s youngest-ever goalscorer. One month later, Bellingham became the youngest Englishman to ever play in the Champions League by featuring against Lazio in the group stages. And by the end of the 2020/21 season, the midfielder had become a regular in both European and domestic competitions for Dortmund, even winning the first silverware of his career, the DFB-Pokal, thanks to a final win over RB Leipzig at a packed Olympiastadion.

And while that would be the only silverware he’d lift during his time at Dortmund, his individual performances would continue to improve. A team of the season nod in 2021/22 was followed by a Bundesliga player of the season award the following year, and he even won the prestigious Kopa Trophy.

By the summer of 2023, Bellingham had the footballing world at his feet.

Man Utd, Man City, Liverpool, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid came calling, with the latter winning the race to sign the hottest prospect in world football. 

Real Madrid 

The opportunity to become a Galatico, and follow in the footsteps of one of his two footballing idols in Zinedine Zidane - the other is Lee Bowyer if you’re wondering - swayed Bellingham to join Madrid.

"My dad had a fake Zidane shirt that he had bought on the beach. He took it everywhere, often at home. One day I asked him: ‘By the way, who is that guy?’ He replied: ‘Go on YouTube and check him out'. Since then, I probably haven’t stopped," revealed Bellingham.

“Zidane was the player I wanted to be."

Burdened with a huge £115m fee, the legendary number five jersey previously worn by Zidane and the pressure of replacing Saudi Arabia-bound Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema in the lineup, there was a lot expected of Bellingham right from the off at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Jude Bellingham (5) celebrates a goal during the LALIGA EA...
Bellingham has impressed / SOPA Images/GettyImages

Those expectations were exceeded. Remarkably.

Moved into almost a false nine role between Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo by Carlo Ancelotti, the goals soon began to flow at a record rate. 

Bellingham became the first player since Cristiano Ronaldo to score in his first four La Liga games for Real Madrid. Then it was the record for most goals in a player’s first 15 games for Madrid which came tumbling down. And by February, he was the club’s highest scoring midfielder of the 21st century in a single La Liga season.

Yes, beating Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, and even his idol Zidane. 

His 23 goals and 10 assists in all competitions have been tallied up at the most important times, too.

He scored a 95th-minute winner against Getafe to mark the reopening of the refurbished Bernabeu, a 93rd-minute winner was also netted against Union Berlin in the Champions League, And three famously came in El Clasico matches alone - two of which were late, late winners, and one of which essentially wrapped up the La Liga title for Los Blancos.

No stat padding here, folks. 

Bellingham’s goals have led to Madrid reclaiming the Spanish title and helped them to reach a record 18th Champions League final. 

Champions League final 

Jude Bellingham
Champions League final time / Eurasia Sport Images/GettyImages

So what's next for Jude Bellingham?

Well, the small matter of the biggest game of his career to date.

A game in which his idol Zidane scored one of the greatest goals in history in back in 2001.

A game in which he can go from world class, to legendary.

And he can do so at his home nation's Wembley Stadium, and against Borussia Dortmund - a club that helped him on his journey to greatness.

The number on his back and his performances thus far suggest he'll do it.

On June 1, we'll find out.