Liverpool are just not BIG enough for Bellingham while the apex predators rule

·5-min read
 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

Jude Bellingham is one of the most sought-after young players in the world and his transfer talk exposes how wide financial disparities in football are now.


Jude Bellingham is invoking more guesses and second guesses than any other footballer in the world. The 19-year old Borussia Dortmund midfielder is the most coveted young footballer on the entire planet and that means an endless cycle of speculation about where he’ll be playing his football next season.

But while Bellingham has been linked with Liverpool since approximately 11 minutes after he left Birmingham City for Germany in 2020, the very latest rumours are that the likelihood of this actually happening is dimming. And yes, it can be difficult to keep up. After all, it’s been less than seven days since a Spanish newspaper reported that there was about to be a ‘double robbery’ in the form of Liverpool signing Bellingham and Josko Gvardiol rather than Real Madrid.

This sort of language speaks volumes for the way in which footballers are seen by clubs as chattels. You can’t ‘steal’ a human being. You can kidnap one. You can traffic one. You can even agree a contract for one to play football for your club. But you can’t ‘steal’ one. And it says something for how Real Madrid view themselves that they consider the possibility of any club signing a player they desire to be something akin to an act of larceny.

And it’s hardly beyond the realms of possibility that Bellingham himself could do without this white noise of speculation. A 6-1 win against FC Köln on Saturday evening put Borussia Dortmund top of the Bundesliga, and they stayed there after Bayer Leverkusen beat Bayern Munich 2-1.

It remains congested at the top of the table, with just five points separating the top three, but Dortmund are top of the pile with nine games to play, with their next league game coming on April 1… away to Bayern Munich, and with their next game against… third-placed Union Berlin. Win those two games and the first of what may well end up being many league titles could be within his grasp, and Dortmund remain in the DFB-Pokal too. There’s a long way to go, but for now the German league and cup double is still on

 Credit: Alamy
Credit: Alamy

It was his assured performances in the World Cup for England that reignited the Bellingham to Premier League stories, and by the end of December it was being breathlessly reported there was a ‘secret £60m release clause in his contract’. It took very little time for this story to be denied from Germany, with counter-reports that not only was there no release clause, but that Dortmund value Bellingham at £150m, the sort of figure that is very much linked to Liverpool’s cooling interest.

Because when we talk about ‘big clubs’, there’s ‘big’, there’s ‘Big’, and there’s ‘BIG’. It’s certainly counter-intuitive in some respects that Borussia Dortmund are not talked of as such. After all, they had a crowd of more than 81,000 for their match against Köln and they are top of the league in Europe’s richest country, eight times national champions, and former Champions League winners.

But the economics of football do not follow these patterns anymore, and if Liverpool are to lose out on Bellingham, then essentially what’s happening to them is what is also happening to Borussia Dortmund too. Ultimate financial clout in European club football is continuing to rest in fewer and fewer hands.

READ: Premier League five-year net spend table sees Liverpool £400m behind Chelsea

In the case of Manchester City, this has been ultimately fuelled by the petro-dollars pushed into the club by hook or by crook over the last decade and a bit. In the case of Real Madrid, it’s a vast global reach and a unique history of success. And such are the vast amounts of money involved, this may even price Liverpool out of the market.

In some respects, it’s almost cute that certain corners of the English media wanted to will a release clause into Bellingham’s contract at the end of last year. After all, Manchester City paid a release clause of £51.2m for Erling Haaland to Dortmund less than 12 months ago. All it took was for a rumour to snowball that this clause – not uncoincidentally, cynics might argue – would put Bellingham into Liverpool’s price range, and excitement started to build again.

Of course, there is a footballing argument for Real Madrid or Manchester City being a better bet than Liverpool. It doesn’t have to all be about money. In the cold, hard light of day, Madrid’s sheer scale and historical heft is almost blinding, while City have infinite petro-dollars and Pep Guardiola’s ongoing mission to build the Ardwick Globetrotters. What damage might they be able to do should Bellingham be in the centre of that midfield with De Bruyne, feeding the ball to Haaland?

But the reality is the reality. With no release clause, the ball will be very much in Dortmund’s court, and if this is the case they are fully entitled to sell to the highest bidder. It’s likely that no matter what Liverpool do bid for him can be out-bid by someone else, and the case for Bellingham choosing them would also be significantly further weakened should they fail to reach the Champions League for next season.

Of course, we’re all hypocrites about this. Every club has a position within the food chain, and we all caterwaul when bigger predators swing by for our most valued assets while shrugging our shoulders over doing exactly the same to anybody below us. This is likely one of the biggest reasons why there is such significant resistance to reform and financial redistribution to even things up.

In the case of Jude Bellingham, the apex predators have entered the building and it does feel as though it may be a little late to start complaining too loudly about financial disparities between football clubs. As those who’ve been increasingly locked out over the last 30 years will unhappily attest, that ship sailed long ago.

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