Take note of Jude Bellingham’s performance against VfB Stuttgart last weekend in the Bundesliga. The English 19-year old demonstrates a surprising clarity and composure on the field, combined with a diverse set of skills that power his non-goal output in many areas of the field. Bellingham is unique in that he’s excellent at beginning an attack in the middle of the field only to, moments later, emerge again near the goal to finish what he started. This quality, embodying both origin and completion, is reminiscent of the legendary Ouruboros: an ancient symbol depicting a snake eating its own tail that symbolizes death and rebirth, the cyclical nature of life on Earth, beginnings and endings.
It takes less than two minutes to find our first evidence of the Ouroboros vs Stuttgart. Bellingham, playing in the midfield, drops back near the center circle to receive a throw-in. It’s not an accurate throw, requiring Bellingham to stretch his 6’1” frame to retrieve the ball in the air. But as he does so, he deftly plays the ball against the grain of his backward movement, delicately touching a pass forward into space for winger Gio Reyna. This first non-goal of the passage begins a domino effect of an attack, as Dortmund push the ball down the flank of Stuttgart’s defense. Next, Bellingham continues his movement down the field without the ball, moving diagonally to position himself at the top of the box. When Dortmund’s movement down the left flank is blocked by Stuttgart’s defense, Bellingham has made himself an option in the center of the field, ready to spread the attack to where Stuttgart’s defense is vulnerable on the right. In his second non-goal in 10 seconds, Bellingham receives a bouncing ball from Reyna on his left and skillfully lets the ball’s momentum open up the play to his right. There he finds Niklas Süle waiting to stretch the attack out wide and makes a pass in front of Süle, stretching Stuttgart’s defense to the breaking point. Seeing holes opening up in Stuttgart’s defense, Süle makes a first-time pass into the box onto the feet of none other than Jude Bellingham, who has continued his run yet again to position himself about six yards from goal in the center of the field. The ball comes in and all Bellingham has to do is gently pass the ball into the net, past the stranded goalkeeper. Two non-goals and a goal, all in less than 20 seconds. Truly fantastic play, but Bellingham is just getting started.
Minutes later, he’s at it again, both at the beginning and end of an attack. He uses his height to win a ball in the air, preventing Stuttgart from mounting an attack of their own. After the ball bounces around for a few seconds, Bellingham regains possession and pushes the ball forward. Realizing he’s at a dead end near the sideline, Bellingham picks his head up, sees open space in the middle of the field, and nimbly dribbles into it. Again Reyna appears to provide a release for Bellingham. Reyna then plays the ball out wide to Julian Brandt while Bellingham again moves diagonally toward goal without the ball. Stuttgart is slow to adjust to Dortmund’s clever passing and Brandt has a ton of time to place a cross into the box, looking for the head of Bellingham but just missing the target a few inches beyond Bellingham’s leap.
The Ouruboros is a symbol of the eternal, renewing cycle of life. Just five minutes into the game Stuttgart must have been wondering if they were in their own never-ending cycle of Bellingham’s creativity and complete play. At the 20-minute mark he displays outstanding composure and decision making as he calmly retrieves a loose ball near the top of the box and wisely distributes the ball out wide, keeping the pressure on Stuttgart and setting up another play down the left flank. A shot goes in, rebounds, and lands at the feet of Bellingham, who has again both begun an attack and moved into dangerous space to try and end it. This time his shot is deflected, but the cyclical nature of his play is apparent.
The last alpha/omega moment we’ll discuss here sees Bellingham intelligently retreat from Stuttgart’s pressure to play a ball backward, which gives Dortmund the time they need to regroup and begin their offensive play anew. Three passes later and the ball is in the back of the net, neatly placed there by Reyna—his first goal after being injured for the better part of a calendar year. While Bellingham doesn’t end the passage of play, he does provide an epilogue, sprinting 40 yards to join Reyna in his emotional, cathartic celebration. Beginning, ending, everything in between—unfortunately for Bundesliga opponents, Jude Bellingham’s renewing cycle of non-goals appears to be only just beginning.