• Sáb. May 18th, 2024

-> Noticias de futbol internacional

Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane: England stars of differing paths and personalities meet in Champions League


In June 2023, Jude Bellingham arrived at Paris Fashion Week wearing a Louis Vuitton suit that was flared at his ankles and cut open across his bare chest.

Bellingham was attending the launch of Louis Vuitton’s Spring-Summer collection. Before the event, he posed for photographers in jewel-encrusted sunglasses and a cravat that sat around his neck, artfully askew.

Wearing thousands of pounds worth of clothes and with absolute certainty in himself, he looked as if was on the cover of Vogue. Beyond his undoubted football ability, he was at ease and cool; comfortable with being the star. Even before he had played a minute for Real Madrid, it was who he was. That was Bellingham.

Two months later, Skechers released a statement announcing that they had agreed to a lifetime contract with Harry Kane. Under a picture of their factory, the company launched itself in football with a boot they claimed was “precise and comfortable”.

“I wouldn’t back a brand or gear if I didn’t 100 per cent believe in it. This is the real deal,’ Kane was quoted as saying. The accompanying photograph showed him sitting on a row of metal steps, looking determined as he laced up his new boots. That is Kane.

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Bayern Munich against Real Madrid has enough heft not to need subplots. But this season’s Champions League semi-final brings Kane and Bellingham together and into direct rivalry for the first time.

They are two of the most valuable players in world football, two England internationals and two stars who contrast in nearly every conceivable way.

Their paths diverged at a young age. When Kane was 17, he was on loan at Leyton Orient. When Bellingham was the same age, he moved to Borussia Dortmund and had his shirt retired by Birmingham City.


Bellingham alongside Marcus Rashford and Jaylen Brown at Paris Fashion Week last June (Pierre Mouton/Getty Images for Louis Vuitton)

At 18, Bellingham went to his first international tournament. Kane was on loan at Millwall. Ultimately, each path led to the top of the game, but the respective nature of those ascents informs the perception of each career.

Approaching 31, the scale of Kane’s game is still underestimated.

Even after Millwall, then through loans at Norwich City and Leicester City, he was stalked by the suspicion that he was never going to be good enough. Too big, too clumsy, too slow. Every step he took in the game was presumed to have taken him to the limit of his talent. Even now, after a World Cup Golden Boot and becoming the most expensive player in Bayern Munich’s history, some are yet to be charmed.

Kane was forged through hard work. The strengths within his game are viewed as having been bolted on and added over time. And because of that, admiration has never quite followed in the right amounts.

Nobody ever thought that Bellingham was not good enough. But he labours under a different misapprehension. He was a known commodity within English football long before he emerged at Birmingham. As ‘Project 22’ — the fabled combination of a midfield No 8, No 4, and No  10 — he was expected to be great for so long and by so many people that his rise acquired ethereal qualities. It was destined to be and so it was.

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From Birmingham to Dortmund, then to Madrid, each step has been sure and steady — and each one has been taken perfectly in stride. This is unlike Kane, who signed a six-year deal with Spurs in 2018 when he could easily have moved to a major European power.

Bellingham’s move to Madrid even came with a big caveat. Madrid made it clear they would not pay as much as a team from the Premier League or the likes of Paris Saint-Germain — both in terms of wages and transfer fee. Bellingham still made that move and took on the pressure of playing for Madrid.

When he arrived at Madrid, Bellingham joined into a friendship group with Aurelien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga, Vinicius Junior, Brahim Diaz and Rodrygo. He was immediately at ease within the media’s glare; there were two striking moments from his unveiling.

Many remember his interaction with Sid Lowe, the British journalist who covers Spanish football. Bellingham paused in response to Lowe’s first question, then expressed how much he admired his work. That does not happen.


Kane swapped Nike for Skechers last summer (Skechers)

Bellingham also greeted the gathered journalists individually, expressing his hope that they would all enjoy a prosperous relationship. That does not really happen, either.

Kane’s unveiling at Bayern was a different affair. The tone was odd because of how hastily his transfer had been completed and because the night before, on his debut, Bayern had been played off their pitch by RB Leipzig in the DFL-Supercup final, losing 3-0. His parents were at the back of the media auditorium at Allianz Arena. His brother and agent, Charlie, was at the front, cornered by the German tabloids. This family affair is like Bellingham, who has his mother with him in Madrid; she even often takes him to the training ground in a car.

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Kane’s press conference was as much of a clinic as Bellingham had given, just in a different way. Kane is not a slick person, but he is honest and likeable. He answered his questions, maintained eye contact with the people asking them and chuckled at all the right moments. Munich looked lovely. He would find time to have a coffee in the city soon.

He was there and then he was gone. He was in the room long enough to charm the Germans with his unaffected Britishness, but not for a second longer than was necessary. When he departed through a side door, it was as if he had never been there.

It was a reminder of how little of his personality he has shared during his career. Kane is private; that is hardly a revelation. A consummate professional for whom nothing matters more than family. Perfect for a top-level footballer, but it’s striking how little colour there is between those lines. There are no deep-dive profiles on him. Few blow-by-blow accounts. No real record of what he thought about this moment or that.

Kane is a mystery. He loves his wife and children. He likes golf. He is utterly dedicated to scoring goals. Beyond that, there are suggestions of his character — his charitable causes, his reading to schoolchildren on British television — but only with the faintest hints.

For an England captain, he is unusual. His immediate predecessors, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham, were all wildly different, but all three showed dimensions that Kane has not. Parts of Beckham’s life became public theatre. The same was true of Rooney. Gerrard was quieter and more reserved, but he was still a more emotional player. He was a Liverpool fan on the pitch. The same was literally true of Kane when he was at Tottenham, but rarely — with the possible exception of his north London derby goal at White Hart Lane in 2016 — did he ever seem supporter-powered.

Given the emphasis on the one-of-our-own energy at Spurs, Kane was remarkably independent of that atmosphere. He was not emotional. Rarely demonstrative, even. He would score his goals, do that little skip of a jump while pumping his fists… and that was generally it. There was something personal to the way he celebrated and, tellingly, given that he is not one of their own, his demeanour has not changed since moving to Bayern.

In 2022, during the Qatar World Cup, The Athletic theorised why Kane was not more popular among England supporters, asking why so many were quick to criticise him.

One suggestion was that he never quite conformed to the English ideal of the heroic, chest-thumping captain. Gerrard played that role for Liverpool. Rooney had texture whenever he played. It’s certainly interesting too that, for many, Beckham’s finest moment in an England shirt was his performance against Greece that led his country to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. The free kick, yes, but the grinding, grafting effort that preceded it.

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At Tottenham, Kane was certainly a leader. But he was often described as a figurehead within the dressing room, rather than its emotional hub. In a Sky Sports interview with Gary Neville in 2021, he made a revealing comment about Jose Mourinho’s sacking by Tottenham earlier that season.

“Jose obviously expected us to be men and to act like men on the pitch: to have leaders on the pitch and be honest,” Kane said. It apportioned blame in certain directions, but also because it described Kane’s attitude towards accountability and personal standards. He was a technical leader, not someone who stalked the training ground, kicking down doors and enforcing standards.


Bellingham and Kane celebrate after the latter scores England’s third in the 3-1 home win over Italy in October 2023 (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

He had friends at the club. He was particularly close to Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Matt Doherty, but was — and still is — just as happy outside the sport.

Kane has a single-minded streak. Few players would have flown across the Atlantic to watch the Masters in Augusta in April 2022, for instance, in the middle of a season. Others would not have gone on a late-night American chat show or attended the Superbowl in February 2019, while recovering from an ankle injury. Modern football is hyper-sensitive and extremely critical. It takes a strong personality to make those choices, knowing that will inevitably draw criticism.


Jude Bellingham will inevitably be England captain at some point. When he does, it will adopt a different shape.

Bellingham is emotional. Sometimes volatile. In 2021, after Borussia Dortmund lost 3-2 to Bayern Munich, he took public aim at the performance of referee Felix Zwayer, who had been embroiled in the Bundesliga match-fixing scandal of 2005. Zwayer was a young assistant referee back then, officiating alongside infamous referee Robert Hoyzer, who was later jailed for fixing a series of lower-division and cup games. A secret FA investigation found that Zwayer had taken €300 from Hoyzer to ensure Wuppertaler SV would beat Werder Bremen’s second team in the third division.

They could not prove that Zwayer had indeed fixed the match but he was nevertheless banned for his part in the fraud for six months by the German FA. He then turned witness for the prosecution.

“You give a referee that’s match-fixed before the biggest game in Germany — what do you expect?”, Bellingham said to broadcaster ViaPlay after the defeat to Bayern.

Few teenage players would say something like that. It should not have happened and Bellingham was heavily fined. Nevertheless, possessing some of that speak-your-mind recklessness makes a player easier to love. Bellingham was young and disappointed, he had had a microphone thrust in front of him while his blood was still boiling.

At Madrid, he has also had his moments with referees. He was sent off against Valencia, the first straight red card of his career, after commenting “it’s a f****** goal” when his strike was ruled out.

The supporters adored him for that in Dortmund. His rapport with the Yellow Wall, the Westfalenstadion south terrace, was immediate. Bellingham played for Dortmund during an individual-led era when the team was often only as good as its talisman. He was an orchestrator too, often gesturing to the supporters and urging more noise.

Some players within that dressing room were critical, perhaps envious of his relationship with supporters. At the end of matches in Germany, it’s traditional, win, lose, or draw, for the team to stand before the ultras and acknowledge their contribution to a matchday. One accusation that Bellingham faced was that he could be apart from that ceremony at times and was more private in his interactions with those fans. Another, verbalised by Emre Can, was that he was overly critical of team-mates and that his negative body language could impact team morale.

Kane has never been like that. His challenges to team-mates have always been far less direct. The long slump at Tottenham that occurred following Mauricio Pochettino’s departure cast him, at different times, as a man on an island. He was public in his desire to leave the club in 2021 yet rarely did that frustration become visible on the pitch.

Kane was at a different stage of his career. He was much older than Bellingham. But that emotional conservatism appears just part of his nature.

Conversely, Bellingham’s expressiveness helped him capture Madrid hearts instantaneously. He was immediately effective and that helps — but not every outstanding footballer feels that kind of affection. It is a response to not just how he plays, but how he carries himself.

Famously, he was the first England player to console Harry Kane after his penalty miss against France in the 2022 World Cup quarter-final. That was no one-off. In Madrid’s third game of the season, debutant goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga suffered uncertain moments during a 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo. Bellingham scored the only goal of the game and afterwards was seen pushing Kepa towards the applause of the travelling supporters. When Joselu scored his first goal for Madrid, against Getafe, after suffering a difficult start, it was Bellingham again by his side, demanding that the Bernabeu show their appreciation.


Bellingham speaks to Kane after his penalty miss against France at the 2022 World Cup (Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s part of a performance, perhaps. But it was still the behaviour of a senior professional. There is also wisdom in knowing that winning the crowd is an essential part of surviving (and then succeeding) at Madrid.

When Bellingham scored the winning goal in the most recent Clasico against Barcelona, he made a point on social media of celebrating Lucas Vazquez’s contribution. Vazquez has been peripheral to the team this season, but he scored the equaliser against Barcelona and then provided the cross for Bellingham. Vazquez has been at the club for 15 years. Making him the hero of the moment was guaranteed to play well.

But everyone has been charmed at every level at Madrid. Florentino Perez even thinks Bellingham’s impact is greater than that of Zinedine Zidane, because Zidane arrived at the peak of his career and was already thought of as one of the best in the world. In the dressing room, Bellingham is admired not just for his contribution on the pitch, but his demeanour and character away from it. There is a lot of respect for him.

That seems true of both players. Kane’s efforts to embrace Bavarian culture have been appreciated in Munich. His good humour in club media, for instance, within spots which gently make fun of his lack of German or cultural familiarity, has helped him to ingratiate himself with his new team-mates and fans. It’s a different sort of affection to that felt by Bellingham in Madrid, but similar in what it represents.

For now, that creates a fleeting irony. Despite the different paths and personalities, and the contrasting approaches to everything that accompanies football stardom, these are players who their teams will depend on in many of the same ways and who, in this Champions League tie, have an equally mighty gravity.

Additional reporting: Mario Cortegana, Jack Pitt-Brooke and Charlie Eccleshare

(Top photo: Getty Images)




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