Borussia Dortmund are used to answering calls about promising, young Englishmen. After all, Manchester United essentially had the Bundesliga club on speed dial for the best part of two years as they pursued Jadon Sancho. The hot line between Dortmund and the Premier League will now get even hotter as Jude Bellingham continues to rise.
Signed from Birmingham City just over a year ago, Bellingham might well be European football’s most exciting teenage prospect right now, a status that was highlighted in Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 win over Besiktas in the Champions League when the 18-year-old was the best player on the pitch.
Not only did Bellingham open the scoring with a wonderful finish at the near post, he produced an exceptional assist for Dortmund’s second. There was no way Erling Haaland could miss after his English teammate’s dribble and cut back while surrounded by opposition defenders.
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Bellingham had 56 touches, including seven in the opposition box, won 10 duels, made seven ball recoveries and won five of the six take-ons he attempted. On the defensive side, the teenager also made three tackles and two clearances as he produced the complete midfield performance.
By finding the back of the net in Istanbul, Bellingham surpassed Kylian Mbappe to become the youngest player in history to ever score in consecutive Champions League games. He isn’t just a generational talent in an English sense. He is on course to becoming a true superstar of the European game for the next decade or more.
And possibly on course to becoming the next £100m English footballer after Jack Grealish broke through the nine-figure glass ceiling by signing for Manchester City this summer. Post-Covid, transfer fees will inflate and Bellingham is better placed than any other player to join Grealish in the £100m club.
There aren’t many players around like Bellingham. He has so many different skills and traits that it’s difficult to categorise him as a midfielder. He’s certainly not an anchor, but can’t be classed as a playmaker. There is enough energy in Bellingham’s game to make him a box-to-box operator, but that doesn’t do justice to the intelligence of his movement.
Watching Bellingham is like watching the future of elite level football, where positions are becoming less and less definable. Managers increasingly see players for their skill set rather than their position and the way Bellingham has been harnessed by Borussia Dortmund speaks to this. They have been the perfect club with the perfect culture for the teenager to grow.
Gareth Southgate must build his England midfield around Bellingham. At Euro 2020, Southgate used Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice to give his team control and security in the centre of the pitch, but England must seek to impose their own game on opponents at the 2022 World Cup. Bellingham is the player to help them do that.
Despite his meteoric rise over the last 12 months or so, there is no rush for Bellingham to leave the Westfalenstadion. He is already competing at the top level of the European game with Borussia Dortmund regulars in the Champions League. Bellingham has scope to grow even more in black and yellow.
But when the time comes for Bellingham to move on, there will be no shortage of interested parties. Even at 18, there isn’t a team anywhere in Europe that wouldn’t be improved by his signing. The usual suspects - the likes of Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Real Madrid - will all take their place in the queue. They’ll need to bring their wallets too.
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