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OPINION: Bellingham is the Real example of a Brit integrating in Spain

Alex Dunham
Alex Dunham - [email protected]
OPINION: Bellingham is the Real example of a Brit integrating in Spain
Real Madrid's English midfielder #5 Jude Bellingham (4R) and his Spanish teammates parade onboard a bus as they celebrate their 36th La Liga trophy. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Real Madrid’s English midfielder has not only had a dreamlike first season at his new club, he’s won the hearts of Spaniards with his desire to learn the language and fit in. With all the bad press Brits in Spain get, is he their saving grace?

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Jude Bellingham couldn’t have wished for a better start at Real Madrid with 23 goals in all competitions, scoring in both El Clásicos, winning La Liga and now the Champions League after Los Blancos’ 2-0 win against Borussia Dortmund on Saturday.

Already adored by the Santiago Bernabéu, he’s literally and metaphorically football’s Golden Boy (he won the award for best young male footballer playing in Europe in December 2023).

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On and off the pitch, anyone who’s followed Jude Bellingham’s meteoric rise is flabbergasted by his maturity, humility and good values at just 20. 

He’s a likeable young man who is open to appearing on camera hugging his parents and showing respect to senior figures at the club, at an age when such sudden stardom could quite easily go to his head. 

In fact, he’s arguably already left more of a mark on Real Madrid and Spanish football than fellow Brits David Beckham and Gareth Bale ever did.

Even if in a footballing sense some may question that remark after just one season, it’s certainly overwhelmingly true when it comes to how Spaniards view British footballers as a reflection of where they hail from.

Bellingham celebrates Real Madrid's 15th Champions League with his mother Denise, his father Mark and his brother Jobe. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

In essence, Jude is the anti-guiri - a foreigner in Spain who wants to adapt and learn, not one who expects others to adapt to him - and in the process is unknowingly doing a lot to clean up the questionable image Spaniards have of the Brits who visit their shores.

READ ALSO: Is the Spanish word 'guiri' (foreigner) offensive?

In an article published in sport newsite Relevo in July 2023, soon after his signing for Real Madrid, journalist Sergio Santos ran with the headline “Jude Bellingham, the least English Englishman Real Madrid has known”, in reference to how worries were quelled regarding Bellingham and how generally badly British footballers have previously fared in Spain. 

The main reason Real Madrid bet Bellingham would be different was his “adventurous” nature and adaptability, having left his native Birmingham to play for Borussia Dortmund in Germany at a very tender 17 years of age.

As soon as he signed for Real, he voiced his commitment to learn Spanish as quickly as possible, and judging by his most recent interview during Champions League celebrations at the Bernabéu, he’s stuck to his promise. 

Speaking at a low-intermediate level of Spanish and displaying high levels of understanding, Bellingham appeared to have also fully embraced Spaniards’ touchy-feely nature as he hugged the reporter interviewing him. 

Such is his desire to live and breathe Spanish that Bellingham now often celebrates his goals with a Spanish ¡Vamos! (The equivalent of ‘Get in!’ in English).

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By comparison, Beckham and Bale not only spoke less Spanish after four and nine years respectively at Madrid, they rarely dared to have a go at showing off a few words of castellano with reporters.

For Michael Owen, the language barrier was the main reason he left the galácticos after just one season.

Young supporters hold sign reading 'Bellingham give me your shirt please, today is my birthday'. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

Other Brits who played in Spain such as Gary Lineker, Steve McManaman, Steve Archibald and Michael Robinson did manage to improve their Spanish, but not quite at the pace of the precocious Jude. 

In terms of integration, Bellingham’s warm nature and friendship with the Spanish players has surprised many who were accustomed to the nonchalant attitude of Gareth Bale, who never really seemed to care much about Spain, or football for that matter (his number one love being golf).

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Beckham’s legacy at Real Madrid was by no means unsuccessful but his superstardom meant he lived a different existence to most of his teammates, always pampered and never forced to integrate.

Kieran Trippier, who spent three years at Atlético de Madrid, admitted it was hard to adapt at first but that his first priority was to learn Spanish by having classes every day. He may not be the perfect example of Spanish integration, but at least his Argentinian teammates got him to exchange tea for mate.

By contrast, only one month into the season, Jude Bellingham was already referring to the Santiago Bernabéu stadium as mi casa (my house), posting on Instagram that he was “settled” and taking every opportunity possible to write something in Spanish.

Whether his dietary and work requirements have allowed him to indulge in a few tapas and cañas (small beers) in true Spanish style we don’t know, but the 20-year-old was mobbed last December as he attempted to take a leisurely stroll down Madrid’s iconic Gran Vía. 

Bellingham may just be a footballer, but he’s arguably the best ambassador for Brits abroad that there is currently. 

More an insider than an expat, a gentleman than a hooligan, Bellingham has replaced the legendary late footballer-turned-pundit Michael Robinson as Spain’s most loved Englishman. 

READ ALSO: Spain pays tribute to Michael Robinson, hero of football commentary

At a time when anti-mass tourism feelings in the country are simmering and the patience towards the drunk and disorderly behaviour of some British tourists has worn thin, Real Madrid’s new superstar offers proof that there are UK nationals who want to integrate, learn the lingo and respect the culture when in Spain.

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