Jude Bellingham has had his shirt number retired, been in a Bundesliga team of the season, scored in the Champions League, become an England regular and been called a “generational talent”. Not bad for a teenager.
“There is no doubt in two or three years we will be talking about one of the top five players in the world,” says European football journalist Guillem Balague.
On Monday, Bellingham, 19, is likely to win his 17th England cap when he faces Germany, the country where he has gone from promising youngster to elite midfielder.
Since Bellingham joined Borussia Dortmund from Birmingham City in 2020 for a fee that could exceed £30m, no teenager has played more in Europe’s top-five leagues – and he is near the top of the charts for defensive and attacking actions.
Bellingham’s Birmingham beginnings
Bellingham spent just one season in the first team of his hometown club, Birmingham City, in the Championship.
He became the youngest player in their history at 16 years and 38 days – and played in 41 of their 46 league games despite being 16 for most of the campaign.
He visited some top clubs with his parents, including Manchester United, as it was clear he was too good for the English second tier.
That said, people laughed when Blues retired his number 22 shirt after he left for Dortmund – but they clearly knew how good he was.
“He adapted very well to Germany but it wasn’t his decision to leave,” Balague said on a recent BBC Euro Leagues podcast. “He didn’t want to leave Birmingham City, he cried.
“Pep Clotet, who was manager at Birmingham, sent me a message saying this 16-year-old who has just made his debut is going to be one of the best players in the world. The rest is history.”
Bellingham takes himself by surprise
Bellingham pretty much went straight into the Dortmund team when he joined in 2020 – and has never left it.
He scored on his Bundesliga debut at Duisburg and played in 29 of their 34 league games – and 46 matches in total – in a season that ended with him featuring for England at Euro 2020.
He has played 68 times in the league for Dortmund, a joint record for a teenager in Europe’s top-five leagues in that time – sharing that total with Eduardo Camavinga for Rennes and Real Madrid.
However, for minutes played, it is not even close. Bellingham has played 5,124 minutes – more than 1,000 more than anybody else under the age of 20.
Before Dortmund’s Champions League match with Manchester City this season, a game in which Bellingham scored, he said: “I think all of it has been a bit of a surprise. I didn’t think I’d have the impact quite like I have.
“I thought I’d have to wait longer. The coaches have thrown me in at the deep end and given me the chance to learn. I had qualities I didn’t know I had, it’s all down to them.
“I feel like a lot of aspects of my game have improved – defensively, offensively, as a leader off the pitch too.”
He is already Dortmund’s ‘third captain’ behind club legends Marco Reus and Mats Hummels.
German football journalist Raphael Honigstein told the BBC: “He is so dominant for Dortmund. They are super reliant on him. It’s a unique position to not have to worry about his starting place at 19. He has found that sweet spot.
“Bellingham has already shown up in a Dortmund team that hasn’t been so impressive.
“He always made a point to sit next to the people he would learn the most from in the dressing room, rather than the easy route of sitting next to other youngsters.
“You will see many kids with a similar talent but only players with duty of care for himself and professionalism like that will be able to do what Jude Bellingham does.”
Bellingham has impressed at both ends of the pitch. He has made more interceptions (78) and won the ball more times (363) than any other teenager in Europe’s top-five leagues.
For tackles, only Real Madrid’s France midfielder Camavinga is above him.
He also ranks highly going forward. His tally of 11 assists is second only to Germany and Bayer Leverkusen attacking midfielder Florian Wirtz. For goals and assists combined (15), only four teenagers are ahead of him.
For chances created (58), only Wirtz, Lorient’s Adil Aouchiche – who also played for PSG and Saint-Etienne – and Barcelona’s Pedri are higher.
Bellingham has already played 144 club games and 16 for his nation – at an age many have not made their professional debut – and he will not turn 20 until the end of this season.
Balague said: “He is everywhere for Dortmund. He is powerful, he is quick, his technique is wonderful. He feels like the complete midfielder.”
Where next for Bellingham?
Dortmund are like a conveyor belt for talented youngsters, who all inevitably leave a team who have only won two German Cups in the past decade.
In 2017 Ousmane Dembele went to Barcelona. In 2019 Christian Pulisic joined Chelsea. Last year Jadon Sancho joined Manchester United – and this summer Erling Haaland went to Manchester City.
Despite having a contract with Dortmund to 2025, it is hard to see Bellingham staying beyond this season, with most of Europe’s elite interested.
“He will be next summer’s Haaland,” said Honigstein. “Dortmund will be hoping he can stick around a bit longer. Only a few months ago he said he has no intention leaving and was happy at Dortmund.
“But his progress has been so rapid, Dortmund can no longer hide how good he is – especially if he starts performing like that at the World Cup.
“Clubs will start queuing, because whoever misses out on him will feel like they are missing out on a generational talent of English football.
“I feel he can play in any system in any team. The system changes with him. In a couple of years the system will evolve by him being there.
“He is like the all-action box-to-box classic English general. Maybe Liverpool come the closest to playing like this.
“Before he went to Dortmund he had big offers from Manchester United. Everyone will clamour for his signing, including Chelsea with the new owners.
“He likes the physical challenge as well. I have no concerns about him fitting into the Premier League.”
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