Jude Bellingham could become soccer’s ultimate superstar with Champions League final, Euro 2024 ahead

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Jude Bellingham’s summer challenge begins on Saturday, a potentially epic six-week odyssey that may end with the Real Madrid and England playmaker established as soccer’s undisputed main man.

It has been one heck of a ride for the 20-year-old so far, and yet, improbable as this may sound, it could be just getting started.

This weekend’s Champions League final between Madrid and his former team, Borussia Dortmund, might be the conclusion to the European club season, but if it is to become a magical month-and-change to continue the Bellingham fairy tale, it is actually just the first chapter of the story.

On Wednesday, Bellingham was named as La Liga’s player of the season following his debut campaign in Spain, thanks to his central role in ensuring the club clinched the title by a comfortable 10-point margin from Barcelona. 

The same day, a report published by the respected CIES Football Observatory placed Bellingham at the head of a list of the most valuable players in the soccer world, estimating his “fair price” on the open transfer market at $304 million. And yet, even at that valuation, the likelihood of Madrid selling him range somewhere between an impending alien invasion and your Powerball numbers coming up accurately.

Real covets glory in the Champions League more than any other competition, and the 14-time champion will go into the clash at London’s Wembley Stadium a heavy favorite, with the location of the matchup adding an extra layer of sentiment and spice for Bellingham.

England’s national stadium is where Bellingham has already shined for his country, and from where — win or lose — he will depart for the briefest of breaks before meeting up with head coach Gareth Southgate’s England team ahead of its European Championships campaign.

“It’s definitely special,” Bellingham told reporters. “But the preparation has to be the same as it is for every game. It’s important to be me and not to worry too much about the emotional side.”

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“This is a game I’ve been dreaming of since I started playing football. I understand the opportunity and I don’t want to waste a second. It would be stupid now to get here and want to hide away from the occasion.

“I’ve always thought to dream as big as possible. It’s a feeling I’ve always had growing up, that I wanted to play right at the highest level. I’ve worked hard, but there’s a lot of luck involved as well. I don’t shy away from saying how fortunate I’ve been. Now I’m here, I want to enjoy every moment.”

The responsibility on Bellingham’s shoulders between now and mid-July is to continue one glorious tradition and erase another, gloomier one. While Real Madrid has delivered time and again in Europe’s premier continental club competition, England has flattered to deceive so often before. 

Since winning its only major title at the 1966 World Cup, the nation that invented modern soccer came unstuck against Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God in 1986,” lost on penalties to West Germany in 1990 and unified Germany at Euro 1996. There have been quarterfinals by the bucketload, a blown semifinal lead to Croatia in the 2018 World Cup, worst of all, a soul-crushing shootout defeat at Wembley in the Euro 2020 final against Italy.

So many disappointments usually cause some to lead-in pessimism, at least before a couple of decent results sees jingoistic fervor kick in, but this time the excellence of Bellingham, and especially his calm and poise, has the country genuinely believing.

England begins its Group E campaign against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen, before taking on last time’s semifinal opponent Denmark and then Slovenia.

Bellingham’s Madrid teammate, former Ballon D’Or winner Luka Modric, told reporters why his young colleague generates such assurance in colleagues and fans alike.

“I speak a lot with Jude Bellingham,” Modric said. “He has showed everyone what kind of talent and player he is, but what has surprised me the most about him is his mentality and work ethic — it’s second to none.

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“He is amazing, every training session, every game, he gives 100 percent. His winning mentality is what surprised me, his football IQ is amazing. He understands the game very well, but if you need tackles, he’s there. If you need to fight, he’s there.”

Madrid’s run to the final was dramatic, beating Manchester City in a quarterfinal shootout before recovering late to end Bayern Munich’s run in the semifinal. Dortmund made it this far by stifling the attacking threats of Paris St. Germain, Kylian Mbappé included, holding the French side goalless in both legs of the semi.

If you get the sense that Bellingham is on the very doorstep of stepping into the role of soccer’s generational leader, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi did for so long, you’re not alone.

But such a lofty status is attained by accomplishing the biggest challenges of all, the exact path Bellingham has in front of him in the coming weeks.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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