Teenage sensation Jude Bellingham fired in his third goal of the season during Borussia Dortmund’s 3-1 victory over Arminia Bielefeld at the weekend.
The 18-year-old Englishman is now a mainstay in Dortmund’s midfield, and he lights up the Bundesliga on a weekly basis with his all-round brilliance. England manager Gareth Southgate currently favours a solid midfield pairing of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips, but he may find it increasingly difficult to ignore Bellingham in future.
A Rapid Ascent
Bellingham’s rise from obscurity to the upper echelons of the game has been remarkable. He only took up a two-year scholarship with Birmingham City in July 2019, and now he is running rings around the Bundesliga’s best midfielders each weekend.
Birmingham’s backroom staff did not expect Bellingham to break into the first team for several years, but he displayed phenomenal composure and maturity during preseason friendlies, so he was handed a squad number for the 2019/20 campaign. Bellingham became Birmingham City’s youngest ever first-team player when he made his debut in an EFL Cup game at 16 years and 38 days, breaking a record previously held by Trevor Francis.
The Blues lost to Portsmouth, but the Birmingham Mail named Bellingham man of the match. He made his first league appearance 17 days later, and became Birmingham’s youngest ever goalscorer after coming off the bench to fire in the winner in a 2-1 victory over Stoke on August 31. He started in Birmingham’s next game away at Charlton, and he scored the only goal of the game.
He won the EFL Young Player of the Month award for November 2019. He had already starred for England’s U17, U16 and U15 teams, and the Premier League giants started showing an interest in this precocious young midfielder.
A Clamour for His Signature
On deadline day at the end of the transfer window in January 2020, Manchester United made their move. The club lodged a £20 million bid for Bellingham’s services, but the club rebuffed the offer, claiming it undervalued him.
At the end of his first season, Bellingham won the Championship Apprentice of the Year and EFL Young player of the Season awards. It was time for Bellingham to test himself at a higher level.
Man Utd were still interested, but he opted to head to Germany and join Dortmund in a deal worth an initial £25 million. That made Bellingham the most expensive 17-year-old in history, but he has more than justified the price tag.
Following in Sancho’s Footsteps
Heading to Dortmund was a very attractive prospect for a young Englishman. Bellingham had watched Jadon Sancho emerge as one of the most coveted players in world football after leaving Man City for Dortmund, so the move made a great deal of sense.
He slotted effortlessly into a talented young team featuring Erling Haaland – arguably the most devastating forward in the business – plus Sancho and Giovanni Reyna. For all their focus on youth, Borussia Dortmund also boast a wealth of experienced stars, including Marco Reus, Mats Hummels, Emre Can and Axel Witsel, creating an intriguing team.
Bellingham made 46 appearances in the 2020/21 season – more than any other player apart from Reus and Hummels – as Dortmund finished third in the Bundesliga. He was named in the starting 11 for the German cup final against RB Leipzig, and he earned his first winner’s medal as Sancho and Haaland scored two goals apiece to put Leipzig to the sword.
Premier League Giants Keeping Tabs
Sancho moved to Man Utd for £75 million in the summer, and Bellingham could soon command a similar price tag if he maintains his upward curve.
He has played in every game for Dortmund so far this season, and he scored in the 2-1 Champions League win against Besiktas, so he must be on the radar of many elite clubs.
Gary Neville says he would prefer to see Man Utd sign Bellingham than West Ham star Rice, and Glen Johnson believes he would be a perfect fit for Liverpool.
A Fledgling England Career
Southgate called Bellingham up to the England squad for the first time in November 2020, and he made his debut in a 3-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland. He is the third youngest player to win an England cap, behind only Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney.
He earned a place at the Euros this summer, and became the youngest Englishman to play at a major tournament when he came off the bench in a 1-0 victory over Croatia at the start of the group stage.
Bellingham now has eight England caps to his name, and he should add to that haul in the months ahead.
Rice and Phillips were very solid as England finished runners-up at the Euros, but there was a lingering sense that the Three Lions needed more creativity. Bellingham has the quality to launch attacks, and his creativity, vision and drive make him a terrific asset for the team.
Rice and Phillips are both young, so they will be competing with Bellingham for many years, but Bellingham is fast emerging as the most gifted English central midfielder of his generation, and it will be increasingly difficult for Southgate to leave him out of the starting 11.