Bernabéu, two Argentines and no English | Soccer | Sports

Raymond Kopa, Jose Hector Rial, Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento in 1977.
Raymond Kopa, Jose Hector Rial, Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento in 1977.Gianni Ferrari

Bernabéu said that every good team should have two Argentines and no English. Such were the first great Real Madrid, led by Di Stéfano and Rial, and Milan, its great rival of those years, with Grillo and Cucchiaroni. I asked him why no English, and he told me that the English were good… in England. He considered them to be fools, without mischief, easy victims of the cunning that the Latins, and especially the Buenos Aires people, handled so well. In the 48-49 season he had hired John Watson, from Fulham, on the recommendation of Mister Keeping. Watson only played one game in the entire League. Bernabéu decided that one and no more.

British football was rigid, long passing, running, charging and jumping, not dribbling and tricking. In the sixties there were resounding failures of British stars signed to Italy, with no exceptions than John Charles, The Good Giant, who although he was innocent, caught on at Juve. But the general view on the continent was that of Bernabéu: the English, for England. Only Bobby Charlton, a phenomenon through and through, was truly respected.

We had one of the last tests of that candor of the English in the World Cup in France, when Simeone managed to get Beckham expelled, later signed by Madrid, where he did not meet expectations. The same as Cunningham, McManaman, Owen, Woodgate, or the Welsh Bale.

This is not the case of Bellingham, representative, yes, of English football, but of another English football. The Premier is no longer a closed preserve of traditions and manias like the English championship was years ago. To begin with, not everyone is British anymore either on the field or in the technical staff. That football now receives many influences while it has become a racial melting pot that enriches it. In the quarries you learn other things and kids from all backgrounds coexist there, as in the professional squads, which are their reflection. Bellingham also left England at the age of 16 to complete his training at Borussia Dortmund.

This Englishman would not have been disgusted by Bernabéu. His football is not rigid, but varied. He is not a fool, but he has a bad attitude, sometimes even excessively, like when he responded to the Metropolitano’s olés with that entrance to Correa. He is not satisfied with fulfilling his first mission, but he tries to go further, and that more is the goal. That didn’t appear in his catalogue, but everything else did: elegant and ingenious midfield player, with long range. The goals thing didn’t come, it was a surprise. In his last season at Borussia he scored 14 in 42 games, an average of one goal every three, excellent for a midfielder, but it turns out that in Madrid he is scoring a goal per game, the honorary degree to which only the most aspiring great scorers in history. Who was going to tell us?

The area does not scare him, rather it relaxes him. He knows how to position himself, see the crack and sneak it through it. 24 shots were enough for him to score 10 goals, an extraordinary success rate. And unlike the countrymen who have preceded him, he does not isolate himself, he is not a foreign body in the squad. On the contrary, he is at the center of everything, not only on the field, but in the general atmosphere of the group.

I have taken the trouble to look at what Di Stéfano did in his first 10 games here: 11 goals and seven assists. Three of his goals were from penalties, two because he was tripped, the other for cutting his hand on a pass from him to Olsen. Bellingham has ten goals and three assists. Di Stéfano was 27 years old. Bellingham, at 20, is in Di Stéfano’s fourth and with good grades.

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