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A Season of Discontent: Strained Relations Between Bellingham & Teammates Raise Questions about BVB Mentality

SportBILD have shed some light on the growing tensions between Jude Bellingham and the rest of the BVB squad last season, but who was to blame for the locker room discontent?

Borussia Dortmund v 1. FSV Mainz 05 - Bundesliga Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Jude Bellingham came so close to leaving Borussia Dortmund as a hero, lifting the Meisterschale in his final days at the club before riding off into the sunset. The perfect ending to his time in Germany was scuppered in the dying moments of the season, but you’d be hard pressed to find a BVB fan blaming Jude for the way things ended. He gave his all as a Dortmund player, treated the club with respect, and secured the club a huge fee in return for his move to Real Madrid. No hard feelings, right?

WRONG. Every single Dortmund player hates his guts and they have announced that they hope he retires as penniless as he is friendless. That’s according to SportBILD, at least, who have reported that the ambience in the BVB locker room is much better now that the horrible little ingrate is gone.

I take anything like this with a huge pinch of salt, but a lot of what SportBILD has reported seems to ring true. Beyond the infamous outburst aimed at Nico Schulz, there were multiple occasions last season where Bellingham either appeared to have a pop at teammates or his body language did everything but verbalise those sentiments.

However, while I think the rift was probably real, I’m not convinced by the two camps that seem to be forming in response to this report on social media. One set of BVB fans seem to be siding with Bellingham, viewing this as proof the squad is full of weak-minded cowards who can’t handle the pressure of high expectations, while another set of fans seem to be treating this as evidence that Bellingham was arrogant, immature, and not the leader that was claimed.

I think the most plausible explanation is that this was just the result of a young man having outgrown his surroundings, needing new challenges to continue his development both as a player and a person.

Bellingham’s Growing Pains

The reported outbursts sound to me like a kid having a hard time adjusting to the admittedly weird dynamic of being better than most (all?) of the adults he is playing with. While I do think Bellingham has shown genuine maturity beyond his years, he only turned 20 recently, and sometimes he shows his age. Last season he desperately wanted to win the Bundesliga title, but he has yet to develop the emotional intelligence required to affect the kind of positive change that was needed. The petulance, the abusive outbursts, the sulking, it all just sounds like a frustrated kid that hasn’t worked out how to lead when the going gets tough, and the failure to fulfill the responsibilities of a team captain sounds like a kid that wanted the title, the accolades, and the respect the position commands, without really grasping what is required of the role.

While Bellingham does seem to possesses some natural leadership traits, that doesn’t mean he has nurtured those traits and developed into a real leader. The awkward position of being a teenager with few peers capable of keeping up with him means that BVB was no longer the place for him to develop these skills either. Jude has now moved to a club where he can expect the world of everyone around him, and more often than not, they will probably give it to him. At Madrid he’s surrounded by an organization that won’t just deliver on his expectations, but will in turn demand he improves in order to keep up and justify his role in the team; and where, despite his immense talents, he is not so special that few of his compatriots can relate to him, or challenge him as equals. For as big a club as BVB is, Real Madrid is the summit of the football mountain, and there are few (if any) coaches better placed than Carlo Ancelotti to not only manage Bellingham’s ego, but harness it to maximize his powers and help him develop into the leader he should be.

Bellingham has had a lot of smoke blown up his ass over the last few years, and that has clearly had an effect on how he views himself and his role relative to the his BVB teammates. To be the very best in your field a certain amount of arrogance is necessary, but it doesn’t sound like Bellingham’s arrogance was helping him or others last season. Moving to a club like Real Madrid, where he will be challenged to continue his development, feels like the natural next step for him.

Not Another ‘Mentality Issues’ Story

It sounds like Jude became a bit of an insufferable asshole last season. While that is not a great reflection of him, I don’t think it is necessarily any more than a kid that had got a little too big for their boots. Equally, that doesn’t mean that his teammates should have sucked it up and been pleased that he was killing the vibe. I don’t think any of this is an indictment of his BVB teammates’ attitude or a demonstration of their mental fragility. It is very reasonable to expect that your teammate doesn’t keep abusing you during training or at halftime. If these outbursts were also particularly petulant, that would only serve to compound the issue.

Further, while Bellingham was excellent last season, he still put in the occasional stinker himself. As is to be expected of a player in their teens, he was at times inconsistent, and he seemed to suffer from fatigue as a result of the busy schedule, putting in some pretty lackluster efforts after returning from the World Cup. It’s totally reasonable that a kid was unable to impose his will on every single game last season, but if you’re going to demand so much from your teammates, you better be sure that you very rarely falter.

There are a lot of BVB players that were guilty of inconsistency last season, but Bellingham doesn’t escape that charge, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable for his teammates to think he should wind his neck in a bit.

None of this Really Matters and No One is the Bad Guy

Look, Jude Bellingham is a Real Madrid player now and we are just days away from kicking off the new Bundesliga season without him, so all of this is of zero consequence to BVB. That said, I think it’s still worth discussing for the following reasons:

  • Drama is fun and everyone is a messy little gossip — this is excellent gossip, lets stop pretending we’re better than this.
  • Jude Bellingham is English. I am also English. Jude Bellingham will be one of England’s most important players over the next decade, perhaps even their captain one day. Therefore Jude’s development still matters to me, and Fear the Wall is nothing if not a site centered entirely around what is important to me.
  • These tensions might, depending on how you choose to interpret them, point to the mentality issues that have plagued BVB for years.

If you take the view that Jude was right and the BVB squad is made up entirely of insufferable, fragile babies that don’t like a little bit of criticism, these reports definitely matter. Personally, I don’t take that view, but I don’t think the strains on the relationship between Bellingham and the rest of the squad are an indictment of either side (I’d also question how much of a factor cultural differences plays, given that the response to some of Bellingham’s behavior always seemed to be worse in Germany than I’d expect to see over here).

I think that Jude outgrew BVB, and he needed the move to a bigger club to challenge him to do better, both on and off the pitch. He needs to learn how to deal with setbacks constructively, and he needs to learn that leaders expect a lot of everyone else but never more than what they expect of themselves. Real Madrid is the right place for him to continue his growth. Equally, his BVB teammates are not at fault for not taking his behavior particularly well. I’m sure there are some fragile egos in the team, there always are, but it’s far too easy to conclude that this is a team full of weak losers that can’t handle the pressure. Abuse is not pressure, nor is failing to fulfill your duties as a leader, and separating yourself from the rest of your team because you believe you are uniquely deserving of the spotlight and the adulation of the fans does not give due credit to the teammates that are helping you to be your best.

I don’t believe any of this is the product of some fundamental flaw in either Jude or his teammates, it is just the growing pains of a soon-to-be-superstar that was ready for the next step in their career.

Your Thoughts?

What do I mean that neither side was total garbage deserving of our vitriol? There is only right and wrong. One side is good and one side is bad — this fence-sitting cannot stand!

Let us know whether it is Jude Bellingham or the entire BVB squad that is subhuman scum that belongs in the sea.