England midfielder Jude Bellingham is on the rise in Europe’s post-Messi and Ronaldo era

Jude Bellingham
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Jude Bellingham is already proving that he has what it takes to help fill the gigantic void left by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

With those two superstars off to new territories, Bellingham has become one of the elite players in Europe, alongside the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Erling Haaland and Vinicius Jr.

On Tuesday, the 20-year-old England midfielder added another goal to the five he has scored in four games this season for Real Madrid. While the 3-1 win over Scotland was only a friendly, Bellingham has had an outstanding start to the season. He even set up another for Harry Kane on Tuesday in Glasgow.

“For a young man to have that kind of football brain, I love watching him,” said former Liverpool great Graeme Souness, now a TV commentator. “Jude Bellingham is the real deal.”

Bellingham joined Madrid from Borussia Dortmund in June for a fee that could reach $139 million. His goals have helped make up for the loss of Karim Benzema, who was part of the exodus of star players who headed for Saudi Arabia in recent months.

At a time when Messi and Ronaldo have moved to the United States and Saudi Arabia, respectively, Bellingham is among the group of players establishing themselves as the new generation of global icons.

Harry Maguire, however, seems to be going in the opposite direction.

Still the most expensive defender in the history of the sport after Manchester United paid 80 million pounds (then $97 million) for him in 2019, Maguire has reached a crisis point in his career.

He has been dropped by Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag and stripped of the captaincy as his form has plummeted over the past year. Maguire was widely expected to change clubs during the recent transfer window, but an expected move to West Ham fell through, meaning he likely faces another season on the sidelines.

That is a concern for England coach Gareth Southgate, who has stuck by the center back throughout his troubles, and needs his players to be in regular action leading up to next year’s European Championship. On Tuesday, Maguire scored an own-goal against Scotland.

Maguire has become a figure of ridicule among some supporters, while Southgate is also unhappy about the treatment he has received in sections of the media. He was mocked by Scotland fans in an intense atmosphere in the friendly at Hampden Park as the two sides resumed the oldest rivalry in international soccer, which dates back to 1872.

“From a Scotland fan’s point of view, I get it and I have absolutely no complaints with what they did,” Southgate said. “It is a consequence of ridiculous treatment of him for a long period of time, frankly.

“I’ve never known a player treated the way he is — not by the Scottish fans, by our own commentators, pundits, whatever it is. They’ve created something that’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

Despite the loss on Tuesday, Scotland is on a high after winning its opening five games in Euro 2024 qualifying. The Scots need only two points from their remaining three matches to secure a place in the tournament in Germany.

Scotland will next play Spain, which routed Georgia 7-1 and Cyprus 6-0. Teenager Lamine Yamal made history by becoming the youngest player to score in a European Championship qualifier at 16 years, 57 days against Georgia.

France, Portugal, Belgium and Austria are also on the brink of qualification.

Under coach Roberto Martinez, Portugal has made its best start to a European qualifying campaign with a 100% record after six games and recorded its biggest-ever win in a competitive match in a 9-0 rout of Luxembourg.

Germany, meanwhile, can only be thankful that it has automatic entry to the tournament as the host nation. Hansi Flick was fired as coach after a 4-1 loss to Japan in a friendly.

Flick was already under pressure after the Germans were eliminated in the group stage of last year’s World Cup — the second straight time the four-time champions had gone out in the first round.

The loss to Japan extended a five-game winless streak and prompted jeers from the home crowd in Wolfsburg. But there was an immediate reaction to Flick’s departure as Germany beat World Cup finalist France 2-1 in another friendly on Tuesday.