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Take a sad song and make it better

I didn’t watch the Champions’ League final last Saturday. Had family stuff on. My brother, who’s a Liverpool fan and still hasn’t fully gotten over the disappointment of the 2022 final, texted me saying “This final seems very familiar.” Apparently, Dortmund battered Real Madrid, who then scored, inevitably, in the last 15 minutes. There was only one thing I was really interested in, though. “Did Bellingham make it through the game uninjured cos that’s all I’m arsed about.”

I’m usually the one pouring scorn on other people’s optimism going into an international tournament, but I’m convinced that, if Bellingham stays fit, England should win the men’s Euros. He’s the best player in the world right now. Some will disagree; some will argue he’s not the best player at Real Madrid. Those people are entitled to their opinion, but they are wrong.

To say that Jude Bellingham has had a successful debut season at Real Madrid would be like saying it didn’t quite work out here for David Unsworth. The Madrid fans and Spanish media love him and constantly describe him as “the perfect son-in-law”, even after he got a two-game ban for screaming “it was a fucking goal” at the referee at Valencia (he had a fucking point, mind). His shirt is the highest selling personalised shirt in Europe, and reportedly sells ten times as many as those of Vinicius Jr.

In an article on Bellingham in the current issue of Mundial, they quote a fan singing his praises: “In Spain we say a player is a tribunero, like a crowd pleaser. Those players are not usually the most gifted, but he is. He runs like a madman, defends, is always the first in line to take responsibility, and to speak well about people. He shows faith when no one else wants to.” He scored 19 goals in 28 league games and was Real Madrid’s top scorer. Playing in a new country, in a new position, he’s won La Liga and the Champions League. And he’s still too young to drink in America.

He can do shithousery as well, a key skill in the modern game. The ‘matador’ gesture he did after selling Mitrovic a dummy on his home debut at the Bernabeu was a statement of intent. It’s probably best, legally, if I don’t repeat what he may or may not have called Mason Greenwood but fucking good on him. And, as pissed off as he must have been at the time, Harry Kane was probably impressed by Bellingham trying to put him off before his penalty in the Champions League semi-final by telling him “You’re gonna put it to the left of the keeper”. You definitely want a player like that inside your tent pissing out.

Incidentally, last Saturday’s result means that the last team to beat Real Madrid in a European final is still Aberdeen, who beat them 2-1 in the 1983 Cup Winners’ Cup final. The last European Cup final they lost was in 1981, when, as my brother never tires of telling me, I cried when Liverpool scored. I was 8 weeks old, and he woke me up and my mum gave him a slap. In fairness to him, putting a sleeping newborn baby in the same room as a teenage boy who was watching his team play in a European Cup final was something of an error of judgement.

People have feared for a while that the biggest threat to England’s Euros hopes is Gareth Southgate. When Phil Foden and Cole Palmer were playing out of their skin towards the end of the season, we all joked that Southgate would still play Henderson ahead of them. Fair play, though, Southgate’s seen sense with his squad selection. He’s even dropped Maguire, albeit due to injury rather than form. And I’m sure our friends across the Irish Sea (hiya Billy!) are having a good chuckle at Grealish not making the squad. I’m furious that one of the best defenders in Europe still isn’t getting a look in, but what can you do.

I was fully convinced, before the women’s Euros in 2022, that England were going to win. Never been surer of anything in my life. I can’t say I’m that certain this year, but it’s probably the most confident I’ve been about England’s chances going into a men’s tournament. Pay no mind to last night's game. No one pulls their tripe out in a friendly a week before a major tournament. Be more Jude. Show faith when no one else wants to. Or, to put it another way, KTMFF.

Written by Arlene Finnigan

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