Dario Felman column: Assessing Bellingham and Yamal, young Argentines on the rise


Dario Felman column: Assessing Bellingham and Yamal, young Argentines on the rise

Jude Bellingham has been a phenomenon since arriving in Madrid
Jude Bellingham has been a phenomenon since arriving in MadridProfimedia
In his latest column for Tribal Football, Valencia and Boca Juniors legend Dario Felman examines the impact of Jude Bellingham (20) and Lamine Yamal (16) this season, backs Girona for the LaLiga title and talks up Manchester City target Valentin Barco (19) as well as Tottenham's Alejo Veliz (20). All this and much, much more.

What have made of Jude Bellingham's impact at Real Madrid?

Regarding Jude Bellingham, it's not easy to play in Real Madrid because they are all stars there. All the best players are there. Jude arrived in Madrid at just 20 years of age. He has personality and has leadership qualities, which is surprising and impressive at such a young age. He is charismatic, he lifts the team and the fans too. He's powerful, he scores goals and he is impressive.

However, it is difficult now because the pressure is on him. There's talk of the Ballon d'Or and of him becoming the best player in the history of Real Madrid and so on. The press in Madrid put a lot of pressure on players. It happened to Vinicius Jr. too… with talk of the Ballon d'Or and he ended up not being nominated.

Bellingham has great presence in the Real Madrid team, he makes other players shine like Rodrygo - players who were a shadow of themselves before Bellingham arrived! He is the only English player who has overcome the pressure in Madrid. Of course, it helps that you are playing in the best team in the world.

However, the referees need to protect Bellingham as lots of fouls on him in LaLiga (which is how it is here) could lead to serious injuries to Bellingham at his young age. Real Madrid have to protect and polish their new pearl too.

The refs need to caution opposition players who are fouling Bellingham to nip it in the bud… so that the situation does not get out of control every time he's creating chances on the pitch for his team. Bellingham needs protection. The refs should actually be intimidating the players who want to intimidate Bellingham!

Bellingham's numbers since arriving in Madrid are remarkable
Bellingham's numbers since arriving in Madrid are remarkableFlashscore

Can Lamine Yamal sustain his current progress at Barcelona?

Regarding Lamine Yamal, he's a player from another planet - he's only 16 years old! He's now already with the obligation of being a first-team player with Barcelona and Spain. In my day as a footballer, teenagers of that age were only selling snacks to the public at the stadium!

Yamal may look fragile but he comes from a very important Sports Academy called 'La Masia' of Barcelona. So, perhaps from a muscular point of view, he's as strong as a bull despite appearances.

The new managers like to see their younger players involved in all the training sessions and put them into playing first-team matches too. The new managers have a different mentality about getting their younger players really involved at the top level now… rather than slowly developing them like before. It's a more modern mentality now. This isn't about business and buying big stars, it's about getting young players from their own academy to be part of the first team.

Robert Lewandowski is an amazing player for his age, given that he is 35 years old. However, he is still obliged to score 20 goals per season. That said, Lewandowski needs young players like Yamal around him on the pitch.

Regarding Lewandowski's row with Yamal, I think Yamal will have learnt more about football in that match than in all the years he has been developing as a footballer. He's a great player one-on-one but Yamal should have passed the ball to their star striker Lewandowski who had the chance to score (and was in the right position to score) and not have been selfish and tried to score himself by shooting for goal.

Lewandowski's angry gesture (refusing to shake Yamal's hand) will have taught Yamal a lot about football in just one match. The master taught the young lad a lesson about playing for the team and not just for himself. You may win one or two matches as an individual but over a season you win matches by playing as a team. That is what Lewandowski taught Yamal on that day.

Can Girona win LaLiga this season?

First of all, I love Girona for what they are bringing to the table regarding this season in LaLiga. The usual scheme of things is that the league is a duel between Real Madrid and Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are sort of waiting in the wings. However, this year, and out of nowhere, Girona have appeared as contenders when they are usually fighting to avoid relegation!

They have signed 'unknown' players. On top of this, they have formed a block that all good teams have to form - starting at the back and going forward. The current Barcelona player Oriel Romeu was fundamental at Girona last season in forming the team. This season, they have bought a great Brazilian (Savio) and some impressive Ukrainian players too. The team is compact, fast and their victories are helping them to become a better team each week.

As time goes by, God willing, I hope that Girona continues their winning streak and the players avoid injuries too as the squad lacks depth. I love ('Me encanta') the solidarity of the team, the companionship, their speed. At the beginning of the season, no one gave Girona a second thought.

The Brazilian Savio is spectacular in a one-on-one situation! He can score with both feet. You can see the manager's imprint on the team. What manager Michel achieved at Rayo Vallecano is what he is doing now at Girona. He has created a fighting team who knows what they are playing for. They know their limits and they defend together and they attack together.

Girona in the LaLiga standings
Girona in the LaLiga standingsFlashscore

They are like the great Getafe side of a few years ago but with more quality on an individual level. Girona is a really solid team at the back and they are fresh in attack. This year, Girona are not fighting against relegation… they are top of the league and fighting to win LaLiga.

Their challenge, as always, is to avoid relegation not to win the league. To give you a comparison, the best Dutch side in history (the Cruyff era) never actually won the World Cup but their legacy remains. I hope that Girona win LaLiga this season and, for sure, no one will ever forget them... whatever the outcome. It would be a breath of fresh air if Girona did it! 

The problem in Spain is that if the referees are harsh in their decisions against Real Madrid or Barcelona… they get dropped from refereeing big matches. However, if the referees are harsh with teams like Valencia or Girona, there are no consequences!

You have to realize that a lot of smaller teams depend on Real Madrid and Barcelona (financially) to fill their stadiums and you have the pressure of the press too. So, it's not easy for a team like Girona to go all the way.

Tell us about Valentin Barco. Can he handle a move to Manchester City?

At the young age of 16, Valentin Barco made his debut in the first division in Argentina! What a talent! He's a rough diamond that needs to be looked after properly and he needs to work hard to reach his full potential. He's a young lad who has everything to become a phenomenal footballer.

He's daring and intelligent and he has played on the wing and on the inside too. He's become like an old number 10 who is free to play where he wants, due to his ability on the ball.

If Manchester City are patient with his development, they will get the best from him. Valentin will adapt to any European team because he is a phenomenal player and he is from a tough barrio too and he has come up the ranks swiftly and already has experience at a top level. Valentin has personality despite his youth.

Valentin Barco's numbers in recent season
Valentin Barco's numbers in recent seasonFlashscore

I'll give you an example, in the recent Copa Libertadores final of Boca Juniors against Fluminese in the Maracana Stadium - Valentin stood on the ball with both feet and stopped the play in defiance of the Brazilian team and was provoking their fans as if to say: 'We are Boca and here I am. So, you better watch out.' Even though Boca were losing 2-1 in extra time, Valentin made his mark by showing the opposition that his team were still very much in the match!

He's not even 20 years old! Maybe you could compare to him Riquelme back in the day - who, I believe, also stopped the match in a similar way. For his vision and the way he feels and experiences football, there's something of Riquelme there, regarding Valentin Barco.

Is Marcelo Gallardo going to Al Ittihad a surprise to you?

I believe that Marcelo Gallardo achieved brilliant success at River Plate and has ended a superb cycle there. Actually, I was consulted by Valencia CF about Gallardo. They wanted to know more about him and they were considering him as a possible manager. Gallardo is a young manager who has made history at a world-renowned and legendary club that everyone knows and recognizes as the great River Plate. He won everything there.

I believe he accepted the job in Saudi Arabia knowing that Karim Benzema would be there, giving the project more chance of success. So, it's a step up the ladder. He's a winner as a manager. He looks into the crystal ball of football with his unique vision.

Gallardo loves players like Benzema, players that run and transmit confidence in the team and play good individual football too. Gallardo himself was a great player, technically, so he knows what he is looking for in his best players. He very much believes in teamwork too.

The philosophy he tries to transmit to his players is that by playing good football, good things happen. It's a positive and effective approach too.

Just how good can Alejo Veliz become? Is Tottenham the right club for him?

Alejo Veliz? He's a tank! In Spanish, we call him 'el tanque.' Again, he's a very young player and only 20 years old. He comes from an area of Argentina (Santa Fe) that has produced some very good footballers like Messi, for example. At 186 cm (6 foot 1 inches), Veliz is quite tall. He's signed a contract at Tottenham Hotspur until 2029! He is a player who is at home in the box.

He's a lad who was born to score goals. Technically, he's not the best in the world but he has a great instinct for goal. He's the kind of player that you could blindfold and he would still have a nose for where the goal box is! He's very fast in a limited space of just a few metres.

In my day as a footballer, there was a diminutive German player called Gerd Muller. He was an old number nine, a bit like Veliz in the box - 'un pescador' (a fisherman) - someone good with their head and their feet and with the ability to turn chances into goals.

Veliz needs more experience to get to that level of Muller and also he has to learn a new language (English) but the potential is there to go all the way. He's potentially a monster of a player! Veliz is young and the pressure on a forward is immense. If you don't score goals you are a failure in football and if you are scoring you are treated like a phenomenon.

With the exception of Manchester City who play like the Gods, English football is based on getting good crosses into the box and that's where a good number nine comes into play - to take their chances and turn the headers into goals.

I hope that Dezotti is right about his aerial game being unmatched, but I think we are going to have hope and wait to see Veliz to develop more as a footballer and learn how to head the ball even better than before.

In Argentina, the majority of players come from the tougher barrios. They learn football from the street. So, mentally, they are more prepared for the challenges of playing abroad than players who come from more sheltered backgrounds.


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