Arminia Bielefeld’s American defender George Bello has spoken of how “crazy” it is to have gone from playing with the likes of Erling Haaland and Robert Lewandowski on FIFA to now lining up against them in the Bundesliga.
Bello, who only turned 20 the week before he swapped Atlanta United for Bielefeld in January, was talking to bundesliga.com and other media representatives about dreams becoming reality, the influx of young American players in German football, his close bond with Gio Reyna and why he opted for Bielefeld.
“I saw him the other day and was just starstruck,” the left-back said of coming across Haaland in Bielefeld’s game against Borussia Dortmund. “And obviously there’s Lewandowski and all those guys, those top guys. I’m just blessed to be here because I played with these guys on FIFA. Now I’m playing in the Bundesliga. It’s crazy.
“There’s a lot of talent. So much talent here. Very skilful players. I’ve been learning, obviously, maybe coming on or just watching the game from the bench. I just keep learning, keep watching how people play.”
Watch: Bello made his full Bundesliga debut in the defeat to Dortmund
Yet it isn’t just the Bundesliga’s established international stars that Bello is excited about coming up against: “Personally, I’ve just been looking forward to playing my bros, like Gio [Reyna], Joe [Scally], [Ricardo] Pepi, Chris Richards and all them.”
The game against Dortmund of course presented one of those opportunities, with Reyna making his comeback from injury that day and going toe-to-toe with his international teammate.
“It was amazing. At one point in the game, he was on my side and I was just looking around thinking this is crazy. We’re just playing in a Bundesliga game right now against each other,” Bello enthused.
“It’s always good seeing your boys like that and seeing them be successful and seeing them being at the top. There’s nothing more you can really ask for.”Bello and Reyna embrace after facing each other for the first time in Germany. - IMAGO/Malte Ossowski/Sven Simon/IMAGO/Sven Simon
Asked about the relationship and connection among the Bundesliga’s growing American contingent, the six-time US international explained they are in regular contact, especially him, Reyna and Scally.
“We basically grew up together, we were with each other since we were young. Our families are close as well. Just keeping in contact with them is really important.
“And there’s obviously other Americans here I can keep in touch with. That’s really cool to me, seeing how far Americans have come. And just being in this top league is really cool to see.”
The encounter with Haaland and Reyna was Bello’s fifth Bundesliga appearance since his January arrival but his first start and first full 90 minutes.
“It was a dream come true. From a kid, you always want to play in the big leagues. And to make your first start against Borussia Dortmund, a massive club like that, it’s really a blessing. And hopefully that’s just the start of great things.”
Watch: Bello and the new Americans in the Bundesliga
On-field life has been somewhat different for Bello and Reyna this season, with the latter competing for the Bundesliga title and the former fighting to keep Bielefeld in the top flight. Arminia go into Matchday 27's clash with Mainz only two points above the relegation play-off spot, yet their exciting new left-back is confident he’s at the right place.
“I wouldn’t say I targeted the Bundesliga and say that’s the only league I want to go for. I feel like it was more just me finding a club that I can go to and improve as a player. That was the most important thing for me.
“It wasn’t about me going somewhere so I can be with the national team or just going to a top, top team, a big-name club. It was just for me to go somewhere where I can take my game to another level and keep getting better as a player. That was my most important thing. It ended up being Arminia. This is where I call home now.”
So, what did Bello know about his new home before touching down in Germany?
“I’m going to be honest, going into it, I didn’t know too much about Bielefeld or Arminia Bielefeld,” he said laughing. “But I had a conversation with the coach and did some research for myself and saw this is somewhere I can continue to improve myself as a player and somewhere I can keep developing and getting more experience to become the better player I want to become.”
Bello in fact referred on several occasions to the conversations he had with coach Frank Kramer – a former English teacher, ensuring there were no communication troubles between the German and American – and how important they were in his decision-making.
“I know what made me want to come to Bielefeld was that I’d had a chat with the coach, Coach Frank. And when I had a conversation with him, he made me feel like he really cared about me, which is really important. Him just giving me that summary of the club made me feel like that’s the right place I need to be to grow as a player and a person as well.
“We talked about a lot of stuff, which is why I like him so much, because I can talk to him about anything. He talked to me about my strengths, weaknesses, stuff we can work on. Him just giving me that kind of layout really made me be like, yeah, this is where I want to be. It seems like he really cares about you as a player and you developing as a player, which is what I really think I need right now because I’m still young and I know I still need to work on things.”Bello has developed a close relationship with English-speaking coach Frank Kramer. - Ulrich Hufnagel via www.imago-images.de/imago images/Ulrich Hufnagel
For an American player moving to Europe, one of the crucial factors in their performances is how they settle in away from the game.
“I think I’ve overcome that and am settled in now. I’m really thankful to my teammates and the whole club for being so welcoming, which made it so much easier for me and made it so quick.”
Coming back to on-field matters, Bello singled out the intensity level as the biggest difference between play back in the States and Germany.
“Every session is really intense. You have to be locked in throughout the whole training. It’s still the same in the MLS. When I was at Atlanta, you still have to be locked in, but here it’s really, really, really fast. So, you have to think fast, move fast. It’s just fast. I’m getting better, getting used to it now.
“Football is universal, so in any league you go to, you have to be locked in 100 per cent of the game. But here in the Bundesliga, it’s a really quick league, so you have to think fast, play faster. You don’t have so much time on the ball. I’d say that’s the main difference.”
Watch: Bello: “It’s tough to adapt to a new country”
As one of almost 10 Americans under the age of 23 currently learning and plying their trade in the Bundesliga, Bello is well placed to offer advice for those potentially looking to follow in his footsteps and those of the likes of Reyna, Pepi and Tyler Adams, and also Christian Pulisic before them.
“For a young American that wants to play abroad, I’d just say if that’s your dream and your ambition, go for it. And go with confidence, because I believe confidence is key. When you come over here, just know that you’re here for a reason. You’ve worked all your life to get to that goal. Just do whatever you can to keep getting better.
“I would also say if you want to make that leap, once you get here, don’t think that you’ve made it. I feel that’s very important to know. Just because you’re in one of the top leagues, doesn’t mean you’ve made it all. That’s what I always tell myself. That’s what I would tell a young person trying to come over here.”