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Borussia Dortmund

'There's no English midfielder at Bellingham's level' - Dortmund's teenage star must be given Euro 2020 chance

15:00 BST 13/04/2021
Jude Bellingham Gareth Southgate GFX
The ex-Birmingham City star does not turn 18 until June, but his performances this season mean he deserves a place in Gareth Southgate's 23-man squad

At 17, Theo Walcott was included in the England squad for the 2006 World Cup in a decision by coach Sven Goran Eriksson that shocked many, including the player himself.

“I was thrown into the limelight straight away having not even played a Premier League game, and suddenly you are surrounded by these top-quality players and you are thinking, ‘Do I deserve to be here?’," Walcott told the Evening Standard .

“I just had to deal with it. I’ve had a lot of experience since then and earned quite a few caps. Being around top players helps you learn, but it was too early in my career."

Fifteen years later, Jude Bellingham may follow in Walcott's footsteps by being included in a major tournament squad at just 17 years of age.

But unlike Walcott, Bellingham deserves to be there, and his inclusion would shock nobody.

Set to turn 18 during this summer's rearranged European Championship tournament, Bellingham has a wealth of club experience to call upon already, having played over 80 games across two full seasons with Birmingham City and Borussia Dortmund.

Last week, Bellingham became the youngest English player to appear in a Champions League knockout game and was cruelly denied a goal against Manchester City by an incorrect refereeing decision.

His rise has already been meteoric, so international recognition by Gareth Southgate is not surprising.

Having become Birmingham's youngest-ever player and then their youngest-ever goalscorer in August 2019, the midfielder immediately became a key part of the Blues' first team under manager Pep Clotet.

Mike Dodds is the head of the the Professional Development Phase programme at Birmingham, and recalls how Bellingham did not look out of place playing with and against players who were often twice his age .

"When he started playing with the senior team, he fitted in because players recognise good players," Dodds told Goal . "If you go into a first-team environment and you're a good player, there's a respect there.

"I think once he got the opportunity in the first team, the players thought 'this boy is decent,' and that's why he fit in so well.

"When they saw they could trust him, they forget about his age. He just becomes another player.

"Once you've got the combination of being a good player and being able to trust them, then age becomes irrelevant.

"When you put players of that age in that environment, they can surprise you. But you have got to give them the opportunity first.

"Birmingham gave him the opportunity, and 44 games at 16 is just phenomenal."

Thanks to those 44 games with the Blues, Bellingham became one of Europe's hottest properties as  Dortmund paid €25 million (£23m/$29m) beat Manchester United to his signature, thanks in part to their penchant for giving youth a chance.

His impact in the Bundesliga was similarly immediate, and by November he was representing England as he made his senior debut for the Three Lions in November 2020, becoming the country's third-youngest international after Walcott and Wayne Rooney.

"He's earned it," his team-mate at both clubd and international level, Jadon Sancho, said after Bellingham's England debut. "At Dortmund, he gives 110 per cent, his performances are world class. I'm delighted for him."

A second international cap followed in March, with Southgate confirming that he had plans to use Bellingham more to fast-track him into the team.

"He's a player we think is going to be an England international in the future," Southgate told  ITV after the 5-0 win over San Marino . "We feel that in that area of the pitch, although we were very happy with everybody tonight, we are a little bit short in numbers.

"For us to help develop him, to put him into games and to try and get him with the team, with the development he is getting at Dortmund as well, we're hoping we can play a part in fast-tracking him into the group."

While Bellingam developed tremendously at Birmingham, with his move to Germany has given him a chance to play in huge games, and as such he has taken his own game 

Against Manchester City last week, he was more than a match for Kevin De Bruyne in the middle of the field, and showed his all-round ability with a strong performance both defensively and offensively as the Bundesliga outfit almost stunned the tournament favourites.

That showing drew rave reviews from former England internationals Owen Hargreaves and Joleon Lescott, with the latter telling BT Sport : "It's remarkable. There's not another English midfielder playing at this level."

Hargreaves was even more effusive in his praise, believing that the 17-year-old is already capbale of being a starter for his country.

"I think Bellingham will start for Gareth at the Euros," Hargreaves told BT Sport . "His all-around game is so good, he plays like a grown man.

"He's already a star and he's going to be one of the best in a short time.  Bellingham has got the lot, he's special. He gives you a bit more power in the midfield." 

Bellingham defends from the front and is in the 99th percentile for tackles made in the attacking third by all midfielders across Europe's top five leagues this season according to Statsbomb .

His pressure numbers and blocks completed are also hugely impressive when compared to other midfielders, while he also completes more dribbles, has more touches in the penalty area and wins more tackles than the vast majority of his more experienced counterparts.

"I have nothing but positive things to say about Jude Bellingham," Borussia Dortmund head coach Edin Terzic said recently. "We're really satisfied with him.

"I personally have a very close relationship with him. What he's shown in the last few weeks has been outstanding, especially considering he's only 17 years of age.

"On the pitch he's always there when he need him. He's extremely good for us defensively because he wins the ball a lot, but also in attack because he gets a lot of things started. We're really happy with him, and we'll try to make him even better."

Bellingham has already had an amazing year at Dortmund, and was  named as the fifth-best wonderkid in the world on Goal's  annual NXGN list.

But an inclusion in England's Euro 2020 squad would be the icing on the cake - and no less than he deserves.