Jadon Sancho helped 17-year-old Jude Bellingham settle in at Dortmund before their careers went down very different paths... now, the old pals will meet again at Wembley as they go face off in the Champions League final

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With the Champions League final being staged at Wembley, it's only fitting some Englishmen are on the pitch.

Given he plays for Real Madrid, there was always a reasonable chance Jude Bellingham would grace this showpiece occasion under the Arch on June 1.

The fact Jadon Sancho will be lining up against him for Borussia Dortmund is something nobody saw coming a few months ago.

The pair are, of course, former Dortmund team-mates and get on well off the field, with Sancho - four years the elder - helping Bellingham settle in when he moved to Germany as a 17-year-old in 2020.

Indeed, the success of Sancho following his own move to Germany as a teenager and his quick elevation to regular first-team football were key factors in Bellingham deciding to sign there rather than Manchester United or elsewhere.

Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham (left) and Manchester United star Jadon Sancho (right) celebrate together in 2021 after helping their Borussia Dortmund side win the German Cup

Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham (left) and Manchester United star Jadon Sancho (right) celebrate together in 2021 after helping their Borussia Dortmund side win the German Cup

Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham (left) and Manchester United star Jadon Sancho (right) celebrate together in 2021 after helping their Borussia Dortmund side win the German Cup

Bellingham comforts Sancho following his missed penalty for England in the Euro 2020 final

Bellingham comforts Sancho following his missed penalty for England in the Euro 2020 final

Bellingham celebrates after helping Real reach the Champions League final at Wembley

Bellingham celebrates after helping Real reach the Champions League final at Wembley

Sancho in the thick of Borussia Dortmund's celebrations after they beat PSG to make the final

Sancho in the thick of Borussia Dortmund's celebrations after they beat PSG to make the final

The intervening years have seen very different career trajectories for the English duo.

Bellingham, now 20, has seen his stock rise continually to the point where he is almost certainly the world's best young player.

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Having excelled during three seasons at Dortmund, Bellingham has taken an £88million move to Europe's most successful club in one of his long strides.

He could end his first Bernabeu season with a LaLiga and Champions League double, having made numerous decisive contributions, and a host of personal accolades will surely follow.

In the summer, he will carry England's hopes at Euro 2024 on his young shoulders and yet Bellingham plays like he feels no burden.

When Man United paid £73m to buy Sancho from Dortmund in 2021, the winger was one of Europe's hottest talents and it seemed a match made in heaven.

Unfortunately, Sancho's career has come off the rails, with uninspiring form, mental health concerns and a fall-out with Erik ten Hag turning his Old Trafford dream sour.

Such is the sense of dysfunction at United, it's difficult to know where the blame on Sancho stops though the player certainly hasn't helped himself.

Bellingham arrived at German outfit Borussia Dortmund from Birmingham back in July 2020

Bellingham arrived at German outfit Borussia Dortmund from Birmingham back in July 2020

It was Sancho, four years his senior, who helped Bellingham settle in to life at Dortmund

It was Sancho, four years his senior, who helped Bellingham settle in to life at Dortmund

The pair struck up a strong rapport, with Bellingham thanking Sancho for giving him support

The pair struck up a strong rapport, with Bellingham thanking Sancho for giving him support 

So at a time when United are struggling to even make the Conference League next season, with Ten Hag battling to save his job, it's ironic a player banished to train with the youth teams last autumn is now in a Champions League final.

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Ten Hag has tried to paint Sancho's revitalisation on loan at Dortmund as a positive thing for United - not least for his resale value - but it doesn't reflect well on him or his club.

Football is full of sliding doors moments, but consider the probable course of events had Sancho fallen back into line and apologised to Ten Hag after his social media outburst back in September.

He'd probably have come off the bench with United 4-0 down to Crystal Palace on Monday night, failed to make any impact and taken the jeers of the fans.

Instead on the Tuesday, he helped Dortmund beat Paris Saint-Germain to reach a Champions League final, having been outstanding in the first leg.

Sancho has rediscovered the simple joys of having the ball at his feet and running past opponents - pleasures forgotten at United.

Whatever happens afterwards, Sancho will always have a Wembley Champions League final. In the tunnel beforehand, there will no doubt be a handshake and a hug for his old pal Bellingham before they get down to business.

Bellingham's £25m move from Birmingham City to Dortmund was a shrewd one but it came at a difficult time with the world still partly locked down amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pair greet fellow Englishman Demarai Gray during Dortmund's clash with Bayer Leverkusen in 2021. Gray, who like Bellingham is from Birmingham, now plays in Saudi Arabia

The pair greet fellow Englishman Demarai Gray during Dortmund's clash with Bayer Leverkusen in 2021. Gray, who like Bellingham is from Birmingham, now plays in Saudi Arabia

The pair played together for England at Euro 2020, which was played in 2021 because of Covid

The pair played together for England at Euro 2020, which was played in 2021 because of Covid

It was Sancho, established in the Dortmund side, who helped the teenager settle in to a new country and culture as a mentor.

'Jadon is really very important for me,' Bellingham told Kicker magazine in October 2020.

The two friends go head-to-head in Dortmund training during the one season they spent playing together in Germany

The two friends go head-to-head in Dortmund training during the one season they spent playing together in Germany 

'Not just because he's from the same country as me or because he speaks the same language.

'More importantly, it's how he puts his arm around me, but also the other young guys, how he strengthens our belief in our abilities and puts confidence in us.

'He's a huge role model for English players my age. To get advice from him really means a lot to me. That helps me a lot.'

With that support, Bellingham wasted little time making himself integral to everything Dortmund did. He was a regular fixture in all three of his seasons there, always growing in influence.

Both made Gareth Southgate's Euro squad in the summer of 2021 and it was Sancho's chance to return the compliments.

'The sky's the limit for the guy,' he told England's official YouTube channel at a time when Bellingham was being linked with Liverpool.

'He is a great footballer, he is mature for his age, which is very surprising. I think when I was 18, I was not that mature at all!

'Being at a major tournament for England, especially, is a very big thing. As you can see, he's coming on and doing his role for the team.

Sancho praised Bellingham on Twitter for his performance playing for Dortmund against Rangers in the 2021-22 Europa League

Sancho praised Bellingham on Twitter for his performance playing for Dortmund against Rangers in the 2021-22 Europa League

Bellingham returned the compliment a month later when Sancho scored what proved to be a consolation for Manchester United against Manchester City

Bellingham returned the compliment a month later when Sancho scored what proved to be a consolation for Manchester United against Manchester City

'He deserves it. As I said before, the sky's the limit for him and if he keeps on doing well then he can reach the top of his ability. I hope that happens.'

On their own friendship, Sancho added: 'What a guy! I remember when he came to Dortmund, it was funny because he was quite shy and quiet.

'He actually said to me at the start that he thought he wouldn't like me. I don't know why but as he got to know me, he started to like me and now we are really close.

'Every time I see him I always check up on him and see how he's doing.'

Bellingham's remarkable maturity was apparent when he was one of the first over to Sancho after his penalty miss against Italy in the Euro final.

Now it was his turn to put an arm around the shoulder.

Sancho's Manchester United career turned into something of a nightmare but his return to Borussia Dortmund on loan has been a huge success as he's looked back to his best in yellow

Sancho's Manchester United career turned into something of a nightmare but his return to Borussia Dortmund on loan has been a huge success as he's looked back to his best in yellow

Sancho's refusal to apologise to United boss Erik ten Hag led to his temporary Old Trafford exit

Sancho's refusal to apologise to United boss Erik ten Hag led to his temporary Old Trafford exit 

Shortly before that, the pair had helped Dortmund win the German Cup and celebrated together with the trophy in front of an empty Olympiastadion in Berlin, with fans still excluded because of Covid.

There has been social media encouragement and no doubt private message in the meantime. 'Jude Bellingham, what a player,' Sancho tweeted while watching Dortmund play Rangers in the Europe League in 2022.

'JS, big game player,' wrote Bellingham on his Twitter account after Sancho scored in the Manchester derby the following month, prior to City winning 4-1.

Now the two mates find themselves - against all odds - on opposite sides in European football's most anticipated match.

Time for the true 'big game player' to step forward.

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