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Old-school mid-fielder Jude Bellingham, an X-factor for Real Madrid in Champions League final | Football News

Season-enders seldom end happily for Borussia Dortmund.

Last May, they just needed to beat mid-table Mainz to reclaim the Bundesliga title after 11 years. They failed. Bayern held the trophy aloft as the Yellow Wall mourned. It’s their fate, to finish second. They have lost three of their three finals of various iterations of the Champions League, the last at the same venue, Wembley. Seven times this century they have ended up in second spot in the Bundesliga, winning just thrice.

In the opposite spectrum is Real Madrid, who they encounter to win their second-ever Champions League. Fourteen times have they conquered Europe, only thrice have they stumbled in the final, the last coming as far back as 1981. Dortmund doesn’t want to repeat history; Madrid wants it to repeat.

The soul of the clubs are different. Madrid’s success model has traditionally depended on buying developed players — who they make greats.

Dortmund’s is the opposite — they mould and then sell the players. Madrid has exhausted 631 million Euros on acquiring the best players of the generation in the last five years; on the other hand, Dortmund acquired a wealth in excess of one billion from the sales proceeds of the twinkling talents they nurture. Madrid embodies glamour; Dortmund grit. Madrid sparkles; Dortmund let other teams sparkle.

There can’t be an better example than Jude Bellingham, the heartbeat of Madrid this season. In 41 games in all competitions, he has netted 23 goals and finessed 11 assists.

Until last year, he was one of Dortmund’s. Now he is Madrid’s. They spend 103 million pounds for his services. Every penny seems well spent. If Dortmund laid the plaster on the floor, Madrid added rooms and floors and converted him to a high-riser, sniffing the stratosphere of the Ballon d’Or.

Don Hutchison, the former Liverpool midfielder and a Sony Liv pundit can’t stop gushing about him. “He is built like a real, old-school midfielder, with strong knees like Zinedine Zidane, and physically strong, sort of like Patrick Vieira… Steven Gerrard. But technically gifted too.”

There is a surreal calm when the ball reaches him. “He doesn’t look as though he ever had a bad day,” he says, before adding: “I am sure he will have a few days like that, but he’s just a really cultured, handsome young man that takes everything in his stride.”

His manager Carlo Ancelotti has simply unleashed him, letting him roam without any tactical shackles. “I think he said to Bellingham, just go and entertain me, don’t worry about tactics. We signed you for a reason, because you are a good player. So just show the public what you can do. Tactically, you know he has got a lot of praise, but it is his man management that makes him the manager he is,” he says.

Not just Bellingham, there is a flurry of players who could win the game with just a moment of magic in Real Madrid. Not that they are an incoherent force on the field, but they have considerable individual flair in every patch of the ground.

“For Dortmund to come through, it has to be a collective effort. It can’t just be about Jadon Sancho,” Hutchinson observes.

It has not been about Sancho either, with their 17 goals in the tournament scored by 12 different players.

The England international had been at the heart of Dortmund’s march since arriving on loan from Manchester United after a bitter and public falling out with manager Erik Ten Hag. On a redemption journey is Dortmund manager Edin Terzic himself, who was in the Wembley stands as a fan to watch his team’s agonising defeat in the final against Bayern Munich in 2013.

Later, he himself would explain the pain as only a fan could. “You see how tough and hard the sport is that we chose to love. It is hard when you see only one goal is missing. There was no happy end for us and it hurts a lot,” he once said.

And one goal has often been the difference between teams in the Champions League final. The last four finals were decided by a lone goal. “Dortmund had to score the first goal if they are to win,” says Hutchinson, but with a caveat: “Even if they are trailing at the last minute, Madrid will believe they can comeback and win the game. The semifinal for instance.”

As with finals in recent times, Hutchinson expects this game to be a cagey affair, despite the teams’ penchant for fast breaks. They are two of the finest transitional sides in Europe. Dortmund would have to deal with the snappy pace of Vinicius Junior. As much as 42 per cent of Madrid’s attacking touches have been through their left third, with the Brazilian at the heart of it.

Defending robustly

But Dortmund have defended robustly, shepherded by the seasoned Mats Hummels, shipping in only nine goals in 12 games, keeping six clean sheets. Often when defending, one of the two wingers too would join, making it a back five. But Madrid have a variety of patterns to unlock defences — so much so that it’s difficult to pinpoint something as their biggest strength. But Dortmund manager Edin Terzic remains unfazed.

“We’re breaking everything down to this one game. In a game, anything is possible. If anyone has shown that, it’s us. It’s time for this series (of Real Madrid), eight games, eight wins in finals, to end,” he would say. His team needs one final step to seize glory, but a step where Dortmund has often slipped and Madrid leapt over.

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