It happened in an instant. With his spectacular equalising goal in the 69th minute, Jude Bellingham changed the course of El Clasico and silenced a capacity Barcelona crowd that included two members of the Rolling Stones.
With Barca’s commercial links to Spotify, Saturday’s match at Montjuic featured several references to the rock group, including a specially designed home kit, but the meeting between Spanish football’s two big rivals ended up being just another stage for Real Madrid’s new star player.
When Bellingham’s thunderous drive found the back of the Barca net, singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Ronnie Wood up in the VIP seats looked as astonished as the 50,000 or so Barca fans watching on. Some 25 minutes later, the 20-year-old England midfield went one better with the winner to secure a 2-1 victory in time added on.
As is now usual, Bellingham was the object of most attention in Barcelona even before kick-off. Outside the hotel where Carlo Ancelotti’s side were staying, children shouted only his name (some parents shouted it too). Many of those in white on the steep walk up to the Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys wore his No 5 on their back. When he came out to warm up, he was the player most booed by home supporters.
Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood in the house for #ElClásico!
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 28, 2023
In the build-up, Bellingham had been something of a fitness worry. He was suffering from “a slight discomfort in the groin area”, Ancelotti said on Tuesday. The player himself said he was ready to play (in slightly awkward Spanish) in a TV interview two days later.
But in the early stages of the game, he did look different, not quite the player we have so often marvelled at in this stunning start to the season. He looked uncomfortable and was lacking spark — much like the rest of his team-mates. Barca took full advantage with Ilkay Gundogan’s early opener.
By the 17th minute, having seen enough of Madrid’s passive defending and Bellingham’s isolation on the left — in a position just behind Vinicius Junior — Ancelotti decided he had to act. After Fermin Lopez’s shot against the post, the Italian called Vinicius Jr over for instructions. Then he did it with Bellingham.
The coaching staff had wanted the two to link up as closely as possible in attacking transitions, but now Bellingham was ordered to drop into a deeper and more central position, leaving behind the left flank where Gavi had been marking him with great success.
Even so, Barca’s good start meant even small progress was slow to show for Bellingham and Madrid. La Liga’s top scorer failed to get a touch inside the opposition box in the first half and nor did he manage a strike on goal. Three times Francesco Mauri, Ancelotti’s assistant coach, stepped up to the sidelines from the bench to cajole him.
In the second half, with the introduction of Eduardo Camavinga in the 50th minute and Luka Modric and Joselu at the hour mark, Madrid’s ball distribution improved and they began to look a little more dangerous. Not that the decisive moment could truly be said to have too much to do with systems or strategy.
Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid: Bellingham is the big Clasico hero (it had to be him)
Some 30 yards or more from goal, Bellingham picked up Gavi’s headed clearance and struck a searing shot that beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen. It sparked a transformation in Madrid’s “energy”, as Ancelotti later described it. His own energy now became plain to see; Bellingham was popping up everywhere, providing defensive cover as well as contributing to the attack.
As Barca appeared drained — Gavi later said his side “fell apart” after the goal — Bellingham drew deeper still on his impressive power.
In time added on, Madrid were the ones probing. As soon as Dani Carvajal picked up the ball on the wing, Bellingham ran towards where he instinctively felt the action would be. Carvajal crossed, Modric’s touch changed its course and Bellingham — appearing from the second line, as the coaching staff always insist — provided the finish to make it 2-1.
— Jude Bellingham (@BellinghamJude) October 28, 2023
He ran to the corner, where he stopped and opened his arms wide — now a familiar scene — in celebration of his 13th goal in his first 13 games. The great Zinedine Zidane never managed as many goals in a single season with Madrid; Bellingham has scored them before November. Despite all the setbacks and the worries in the dugout, he was once again the hero of the match.
But before the curtain fell on this latest show, Bellingham’s headline act left two further scenes to remember. Before leaving the pitch, he put his hand to his ear towards the Barcelona fans who had jeered him. And before boarding the Madrid team bus, he met again with his old manager at Birmingham City, Pep Clotet, with whom he asked to take a photo.
Later, Bellingham posted a picture on social media depicting him, Camavinga, Tchouameni and Valverde as The Beatles, walking across the iconic zebra crossing of Abbey Road. It was in reply to a Tchouameni message that again made reference to the Rolling Stones’ apparent disappointment.
Madrid fans across the country and beyond were only singing one song: “Hey Jude”.
(Top photo: Pedro Castillo/Real Madrid via Getty Images)