What were you doing aged 17?
Chances are you weren't moving from your boyhood club to a European giant for £25m, quickly establishing yourself at your new team and earning your first international call-up. But for Jude Bellingham, that’s the reality.
Despite making just 11 appearances for Borussia Dortmund following his summer switch from Birmingham City, most of them from the bench, Bellingham has earned a shock summons to the England squad after James Ward-Prowse and Trent Alexander-Arnold withdrew with injuries.
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The teenage sensation is following in the footsteps of compatriot Jadon Sancho, who has become one of the world's most exciting forwards after swapping Manchester City for Dortmund in 2017. So how good is the boy from Stourbridge?
Jude Bellingham, Jadon Sancho | Borussia Dortmund
Image credit: Getty Images
'The next Sancho-like story'
We asked our colleagues at Eurosport Germany to explain how Bellingham has adapted to life in the Bundesliga, with the parallels to Sancho unavoidable.
"Bellingham has really impressed everyone in Germany so far. Aged just 17 he arrived as a man for the future, but immediately convinced. He's a strong runner, good at duels and has that ‘certain something’ in the build-up," says Marc Hlusiak.
"The fact that he was able to assert himself in a position where there is great competition (Axel Witsel, Thomas Delaney, Mahmoud Dahoud, Julian Brandt) is extraordinary.
"He is currently getting a little more rest, but that is just to not overwhelm him. He is a type of player that Dortmund were missing. A box-to-box player and that suits Borussia well.
"Bellingham made it clear from the summer camp onwards that he is the real deal. He took the Bundesliga by storm and yes, he surely can be the next Sancho-like story at Dortmund. In a different position though."
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Is the backlash justified?
However, Southgate's decision hasn't been universally applauded. After his decision to tease Jack Grealish before belatedly handing him a spot in his squad when there were no other viable options, he is again running the risk of hypocrisy after throwing in the inexperienced Bellingham.
Among the aggrieved is Ross Barkley, now a teammate of Grealish, enjoying a renaissance under Dean Smith. But is a run of six good games enough when you’ve built a career on flattering to deceive? He’s blessed with an abundance of talent, there’s no denying it, but is still plagued by the decision-making of a player far outside the elite.
There are others who can feel more disgruntled. Harvey Barnes and James Maddison have helped Leicester City climb to the top of the Premier League and are absent. And yet neither has had a consistent run of playing 90 minutes, with Brendan Rodgers choosing to haul them off on the hour-mark or turn to them from the bench. So do they definitely deserve a call-up?
And anyway, Southgate wants a central midfielder to replace Ward-Prowse. You can’t just say ‘Ross Barkley is a midfielder, Jude Bellingham is a midfielder, so pick Barkley’. Barkley plays far higher up the pitch. Maddison and Barnes do too. Stick any of them in central midfield and England sink.
Instead, Bellingham is more in the mould of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who Southgate showed immense faith in during the lead up to the World Cup in 2018. Southgate likes a box-to-box midfielder capable of linking defence and attack, while also being a presence in the middle. It’s too early to say if Bellingham is that player, but why should we criticise Southgate for wanting to have a closer look?
That’s not to say Southgate has got this right. He’s hardly spoilt for choice in attacking midfield with Grealish, Mason Mount and Phil Foden the only central options. But with Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice and Harry Winks expected to fight for the deeper positions in midfield, Bellingham isn't going to be wildly out of his depth.
It comes down to whether you would rather have a player who has underwhelmed before, a player who is struggling to get 90 minutes for Leicester, or a player who is worse than the alternatives right now but has the potential to be far greater.
England always seem reluctant to stick with the current generation, the promise of a new crop of youngsters quickly outdating those who were being hyped just a few years before. At some point, they have to stick with what they have. But now isn't that time.
Their midfield is still not at the level to realistically compete with the best in the world. All Southgate is doing is getting a clearer idea of whether a teenager from the outskirts of Birmingham is the answer.
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