Liverpool manager Jurgen Norbert Klopp comes across as an upstanding chap – the sort you’d want to be associated with.
He’s a little intense, so you wouldn’t want him to be your dad. That’d be far too much.
But as a nice uncle figure that you see at Christmas and on other celebratory or commiseratory occasions, he’d be a great addition to the family.
He’d ask you how you’re doing at school, provide a bit of earnest advice in the form of some odd Black Forest parable that doesn’t really translate that well.
From the outside, he appears a man who has the best interests of those around him at heart, a man whose moral compass is generally pointed in the right direction. A man of his word, you might say.
But if we are wondering what it would take to make Klopp abandon his principles, then Borussia Dortmund’s prodigious English midfielder Jude Bellingham may well have provided the answer at the Bielerfelder Alm on Saturday afternoon.
Bellingham, if you need reminding, made three appearances for England during their run to the Euro 2020 final – two of which came before he was legally old enough to purchase a pint of lager.
Yet, even at his tender age, he has the air of a 30-year-old on the football pitch. He is calm and collected, never hurried or uncomfortable in possession, never bothered about taking the ball, however tight the space. And when he takes the ball, his decision making is impeccable.
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All of which inevitably makes him the subject of great speculation. It is merely a case of when he will leave Dortmund for pastures new.
But which pasture he will choose to graze in remains unclear. Unsurprisingly, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have been cited as frontrunners in the frantic race for his services.
United made significant efforts to sign him when he moved from Birmingham to Dortmund in 2020 for a reported £25million. Bellingham was even met by Sir Alex Ferguson and it’s said that the visit made a deep impression on the teenager.
But Liverpool have also been credited by The Times with “concrete interest” and after Sunday’s showing at Old Trafford, we’d forgive Bellingham for looking at United’s current situation and thinking, ‘Fuck that for a laugh.’
At Liverpool, he’d slot straight into a perfectly oiled team in a role that would appear to suit his playing style to a tee.
Yet even if the Liverpool hierarchy do decide Bellingham is the man they have to have, and Bellingham decides Anfield is the place for him, Jurgen Klopp’s moral compass may well point them in another direction.
According to Bild journalist Christian Falk, uncle Jurgen has “inhibitions” about a move for the England youngster owing to his close connections to Dortmund.
Dortmund still hold a special place in Klopp’s heart, of course. How could they not? Accordingly, he doesn’t want to take their finest talent. After all, he knows all too well the pain of the club losing their best talent to better-resourced rivals from his seven years in charge.
Indeed, we wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he told them he wouldn’t go back to nab their best after departing – and Klopp’s a man of his word, remember.
But for Bellingham, even Klopp might go over to the dark side – especially after seeing the goal he scored against Arminia Bielefeld, a goal so deviously delicious that it could turn the holiest of saints into a doggone sinner.
In the first half, Dortmund had essentially put the game to bed. Bellingham helped win a penalty that Emre Can coolly converted and Mats Hummels doubled their lead with a beautifully struck volley just before the break.
But if Hummels thought he’d scored the goal of the game, he had another thing coming in the second half.
With 19 minutes to go, Bellingham picked the ball up on the corner of the penalty area and saw the chance to plaster his name across the German back pages and the world’s social media feeds.
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) October 23, 2021
He shaped to shoot on his right before channelling his inner Mo Salah and weaving his way through the massed ranks of Arminia defenders, whose efforts to stop him were about as successful as a 1970s Bond villain’s henchmen’s attempts to stop 007’s progress through some underground nuclear bunker.
It was Bellingham’s start to the season in microcosm.
This term, the Midlands magician has started nine games in the Bundesliga and, so far, he’s averaging over twice as many chances created per game as in 2020-21 (1.1 to 0.5) and over twice as many dribbles per game as last season (2.1 to 1.0).
He’s got two assists and, with the above bit of wizardry included, two goals. In 2020-21, he managed three assists and one goal in 29 league games (19 starts).
Whisper it, but Bellingham’s already up there among the best central midfielders in Europe.
Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson knows it, and with England he’s seen it up close.
When asked about his England squad-mate in September, Henderson said Bellingham was “miles ahead” of him at the same age, adding: “He’s a fantastic player. Even at such a young age he shows fantastic maturity on and off the field.
“You can see how hungry he is to be a top player and has all the attributes to do that. I was trying to help as much as I could but to be honest he is a top player who has shown that in the big games for Dortmund. I see him going from strength to strength all the time.”
Surely Henderson would love to see Bellingham going from strength to strength alongside him in the Reds midfield. If he does, Henderson will have to convince his boss to go back on his word. But after a goal like the one against Arminia, Klopp will surely be tempted to listen.
By Joshua Law