Jude Bellingham has quickly become one of the most well-known young prospects around the world. At just 19 years of age, the midfielder has the world at his feet and will certainly have Europe’s elite knocking on his door next summer. From breaking through the academy at Birmingham City to playing Champions League knockout ties against the best of the best, it has been quite the rise for the England International who is yet to enter his twenties despite playing more than 140 professional games.
Bellingham was born June 2003 in Stourbridge and his dad Mark Bellingham was a non-league footballer. He joined Blues’ academy at the age of seven and went on to progress throughout their youth teams before he was called up to the first team in the 2019/20 season. At the time, Bellingham was just 16 years old and still holds the record for being the Championship’s youngest ever goalscorer at just 16 years, two months and two days old. He scored in his first full start for his boyhood club as they beat Charlton Athletic in a 1-0 win. In his first professional campaign, the midfielder went on to make 43 appearances in the domestic league – showing his credentials at such a ripe age.
The midfielder only played professionally for Birmingham for one official season before securing a £25 million move to German giants Borussia Dortmund. Reportedly, Bellingham was shown around the Manchester United training complex before deciding against a move to Old Trafford and subsequently made the move to Dortmund. He was just 17 years old at the time of the transfer and became the most expensive transfer ever for his age. Game time was pivotal for Bellingham as he sought experience – hence why he rejected a move to Manchester. July of 2020 was when the signing became official and during his unveiling, the midfielder said: “It is a massive club and it is a real honour for me to be here”.
Birmingham City showed their appreciation for the youngster by controversially retiring his number 22 shirt. It was a record fee received for the Blues and although they were keen to keep the midfielder, they also understood the impending seismic wave of the youngster’s blossoming career.
During his first season in the Bundesliga the midfielder made 29 appearances and contributed to five goals. Although he was just 17 years old, he played just less than 1800 minutes and made ten appearances in the 20/21 UEFA Champions League campaign which saw Dortmund knocked out in the quarter-finals by eventual finalists Manchester City. The tie was the moment when Bellingham announced himself on a worldwide stage, scoring in the second leg and unjustly having a goal disallowed in the first. Many credited the Englishman’s performances over both games and praised his maturity for such a young player. In battles against the likes of Rodri, Phil Foden, Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva, the youngster really did have the upper hand across the tie and showed his class and ability.
Since his arrival in Germany, Bellingham has gone from strength to strength and has improved astronomically. The 19-year-old has more than a tonne of appearances for Dortmund with him only joining three years ago – again showing how centrifugal he is to the teams that he has already played for.
The most commendable attribute that Bellingham possesses is his ability to play beyond his years with the dismissal of his age. The 19-year-old carries himself with pure aplomb and his handling of the media is something to be inspired by. Sure, he may have overstepped the mark on one occasion when he criticised the officiating after a tightly fought Der Klassiker.
What makes Bellingham a game changer? There are countless factors, but within the midfielder there is tremendous ball carrying ability. In terms of progression from deeper areas, the youngster is up there with some of the best, such as Frenkie De Jong of Barcelona and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic of Lazio. The 19-year-old’s progressive stats in the past year are something to be admired. According to FBref, the Englishman completes six progressive carries per90 minutes and he makes five progressive passes per90. These statistics reflect Bellingham’s footballing intelligence and IQ. He is accomplished in moving the ball at speed and turning the opposition defence. Players such as Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland loved playing alongside him as he provided elite service from deeper areas and began attacks for a fluid Dortmund side.
In German football, the rhythm is stereotypically fast and played at a quick pace. Dortmund look to utilise both halves of their midfield – often to pull teams out of place and punish the half spaces. Within Bellingham and Julian Brandt, BVB have two outstandingly progressive midfield players that play with poise and control, which is so crucial to the Dortmund team.
Last campaign was the season that Bellingham completed his adaptation to German football and began to create opportunities from his deep dribbles and found good connections with Dortmund’s front players; resulting in him contributing to 20 goals. In comparison to his first season, the youngster has started to apply elite body positioning which gives himself a bigger margin for error when receiving the ball. As Bellingham receives passes in half spaces, he scans and assesses his options to work out which is the best way forward. What is noticeable within his play now is the ability to find the extra pass or set up the extra man with one-twos or intricate passes around the edge of the area. During the 21/22 campaign, Bellingham was in the top five percent for midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues in receiving progressive passes around the penalty area.
What Bellingham bemuses people with is his ability to play in all three midfield spaces – he can play at the base, in the middle, or at the tip of a midfield. Rarely do we see him play at the foundation of a midfield but when he has done, he has delivered. A noticeable fixture last year was a game against Bayer Leverkusen where Bellingham played in a midfield three with Mo Dahoud and Axel Witsel. The youngster anchored the midfield and acted as a deep-lying playmaker, showing eagerness to surge the ball forward at any given chance.
An indication of Bellingham’s presence in the opposition’s penalty area is the fact that he has four touches on average in the opposing box per90. If given time and space to turn, the 19-year-old can be devastating with his eye for a killer pass and can take defences out of the equation with a single pass. For a player that is only 19, one would assume that he will only improve on this with experience and maturity.
In recent times, the role of a box-to-box midfielder has evolved and adapted. The likes of Milinkovic-Savic, De Jong and Bellingham are all evidence of this. The emphasis on an athlete in midfield is increasing and the need for an engine in the middle of the pitch is in high demand. Athleticism mixed with ball playing ability is a necessity within modern football and the need to go from back to front quickly is increasing; especially with most teams deploying a high defensive line with the aim of squeezing the opposition.
This is where Bellingham excels, if pressed the Englishman has elite intelligence and can read the game perfectly. He knows when to turn and how to get himself out of a tight situation – much similar to the likes of Thiago Alcantara at Liverpool. Bellingham has all the key attributes needed to be a complete midfielder with many comparing his role and play style to that of Steven Gerrard and the 19-year-old could very quickly become a first choice midfielder on the international stage.
However, Dortmund are running a risk with Bellingham as there is a huge emphasis on him carrying the midfield which could eliminate all of his elite abilities in terms of ball carrying and playing progressively. We can assume that all of Europe’s elite will want the 19-year-old with many claiming he will improve any team he walks into.
The Englishman is certainly an interesting topic and will be nail-biting to see where his next move is.