According to the story, the German club knew they had landed their man when he sent them a picture of himself watching BVB’s 4-0 win over rivals Schalke in a Borussia Dortmund shirt.
The story also goes into detail of the two clubs’ recruitment strategies. Both United and Dortmund had been monitoring the player for the past three years, with Mick Phelan personally attending a match against West Brom a few months ago.
While United rolled out the red carpet of stars such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Eric Cantona, the German side took a different approach. The club took a ‘long-game’ approach that had been successful in luring past young superstars to the club.
“The club regularly reached out to Jude and actively attempted to turn him into a bit of a BVB supporter” a source told The Athletic.
The news of Bellingham opting for Borussia Dortmund was a blow for United as he became the second exciting prospect to be stolen from United’s grasp by the Germans this year alone (Erling Haaland signed for BVB in January).
Critics will use the cases of Haaland and Bellingham as an argument against the current regime and their inability to close these deals, but this is far from that.
In years gone by it would have been unheard of for a young English talent to choose the Bundesliga over the Premier League, let alone Manchester United, but the landscape has changed. Borussia Dortmund’s ability to develop teenage talent and move them to the biggest clubs in the world is well documented, having developed players like Ousmane Dembele, Christian Pulisic, and Jadon Sancho in the last three years alone.
With that reputation in hand, the Black and Yellow have become the premier landing spot for teenage talent in Europe. Youngsters know they are going to get chances in the first team, and they know they are going to be given every chance to develop and shine.
That’s not to say that won’t happen at Manchester United. Of all the top clubs in England United have the best track record at promoting youth, both historically and recently. It was believed Bellingham would be offered a chance to join the first team at United right away without having to spend any time with the U23s. But a source described as “close to United” by The Athletic arguing that a template of going from teenager to superstar at the club was set by Cristiano Ronaldo is evidence of how behind the times United are living.
The success of Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams jumping from the academy to the first team this season is evidence that United aren’t afraid to play youth. But for every Mason Greenwood or Brandon Williams that United have, there’s even more Angel Gomeses and Tahith Chongs. Players who were promised opportunities but never really seemed to get them.
Following the footsteps of Jadon Sancho seems to be the model favored by more and more players now. An international recruitment expert told The Athletic, “The best way (for a young player) to get into the Manchester United XI is to play for Dortmund first.”
The two clubs are simply in different places. Manchester United are trying to build themselves back up to mount a credible title challenge while also dealing with a league that has six teams routinely competing for four Champions League places. Dortmund aren’t expected to mount a title challenge every year, but can comfortably finish in the top four in the Bundesliga.
For that reason alone, Dortmund have the ability to not just play youth, but develop that youth. United will play youth if that youth can help them right now. Bellingham will be allowed to play through his mistakes as a young player in the first team at Dortmund. Would the same be true in a United team that is desperate to challenge for trophies again?
There’s also the element of how each club views itself. Manchester United still see themselves as an endpoint. They don’t want to be developing players just to see them leave in a few years. Their stance on Paul Pogba last summer re-enforced that view.
Borussia Dortmund very much understand where they are in the pecking order. They’re a big European club but they’re still a developmental club. They’re happy finding young players and moving them on in a few years for a nice fee.
That outlook was reflected in each club’s offer to Bellingham. Knowing he would only stay a few years, BVB were able to offer the teen more money up front. United, believing Bellingham to be a player they’d have for 10 years, needed to factor that in to their initial offer. They couldn’t give him too much too soon and then be raising it over the next 10 years.
Lastly, the Bellingham family wanted to make sure that Birmingham Football club was taken care of. Birmingham will receive a £20 million fee as well as “a sizable portion of any sell-on fee.”
That’s a really important aspect. Dortmund know that if all goes to plan there will be a sell on fee — quite a large one. Had he gone to United, if he ever left the club it would either be from not making it (and thus, a very small fee) or leaving at the back end of his career to keep playing first team football like Ashley Young, which would also yield little to no fee.
This is the same reason Haaland chose Dortmund over United (only in his case, that extra fee helps Mino Raiola).
Jude Bellingham isn’t the first teenager to choose Borussia Dortmund over Manchester United, and he may not even be the last. It has nothing to do with the manager or the chairman, it’s simply the new normal.
And if Sancho is indeed the blueprint for Bellingham’s choice to go to Dortmund, then United will be back in for him in a couple of years anyway.