Even at the tender age of 17, Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham is not surprised by how his career went last year.
“Not really,” he told ESPN. “I worked so hard to get here and I work so hard now to keep up with every game I play.”
A year ago, Bellingham struggled to keep his former club Birmingham City, where he made his debut with the first team at the age of 16, from relegation to the championship. He was the youngest, but also one of the best players in the second division of English football. Now, after a £ 30m transfer last summer, he starts for one of Europe’s elite clubs, has made a huge impact in the Champions League and is now a senior England international after making his debut against San Marino last month Has.
It’s not just the midfielder’s talent with the ball that impresses, but also his maturity. Bellingham still looks like a teenager, but he plays and talks like he’s been at this level for years. His assessment of his performance in the 2-1 defeat in the quarter-finals of the Champions League against Manchester City, in which Dortmund conceded the winning goal against Phil Foden in the 90th minute, was an indication of his self-confidence and his form.
– Connelly: How UCL QF first legs were won, lost
– Best bets in the Champions League (USA)
– Stream ESPN FC Daily on ESPN + (US only)
“I’m not bad at football,” he said with a smile. “I wanted to be effective with the ball and evil without it.”
Despite the eventual elimination of Dortmund, he was certainly effective against City. Bellingham had ruled out a goal in the first leg (the “foul” he was punished for – intercepting a stray ball and shooting home – against goalkeeper Ederson seemed particularly pedantic); He also lived up to the “bad” day when his aggressive and intense hunt for the ball helped Dortmund keep City under pressure and unbalanced.
“Jude is a great young player,” Dortmund coach Edin Terzic told ESPN after the game. “How many 17-year-olds in Europe could do that kind of performance? He’s got it all.”
The return leg saw more of it; Bellingham opened the game that night with a breathtaking curling performance that made him Dortmund’s youngest top scorer in the Champions League at just 17 years and 289 days. Unfortunately, the handball of Emre Can Man City opened when Riyad Mahrez scored from the penalty spot and Foden scored again as the elected Premier League champions scored a 2-1 win (4-2).
Janusz Michallik believes Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala are two players to see next season.
Foden may have made a lot of headlines, but Bellingham’s appearances reminded everyone why so many clubs were after him last summer. In fact, he has become just as important to this Dortmund team as Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho.
Bellingham has played more than expected, having played 40 games in all competitions so far. Despite losing form at the start of the season, Bellingham have reached a level that has surprised everyone. He had never played abroad and didn’t speak German when he moved, but he has apparently already conquered the Bundesliga. His first goal for the club against VfB Stuttgart 10 days ago, when his team lost 1-0 in a game they couldn’t afford to lose, was tremendous.
The past few weeks have been full of Bellingham moments like this. Maybe we should just listen to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola? City explored the midfielder in Birmingham and although they decided not to make a move, they are now (like any other big club in Europe) thinking about signing him – not this summer but rather the following one.
“Maybe he’s a liar,” said Guardiola after the Champions League second leg about Bellingham. “Maybe he’s not 17 years old. I can’t believe he’s 17 years old. He’s so good for 17 years, he’s a fantastic player. There was a moment when he didn’t get the ball from central defenders, how he screams and demands that the ball mean a lot to him at 17. I spoke to his manager and he told me what you see in these two games is like any training session. “
There is obviously room for improvement, especially his finish, as he should score and create more goals, but he could become the most complete midfielder ever. He is part of a new generation of midfielders who can do anything, modeled on Paul Pogba. He can play anywhere in midfield, as No. 6, No. 8 or No. 10. He can sit lower, play higher, defend and attack just as easily. But he can also be aggressive.
The race for the top 4 in the Bundesliga is nearing its critical point – Dortmund is fifth; With four points behind Eintracht Frankfurt with five rounds remaining – and a place in the English squad for Euro 2020 in summer to be won, Bellingham has the motivation to end the season as strong as possible.
The teenager is still humble. He interviewed some of the television crews stationed on the Etihad pitch and said with a smile, “They probably all wanted to talk to Erling and not me!”
He might have been right, but he will soon be the main attraction. In his career plan, Dortmund is currently the perfect club to develop and learn, but just like his teammates, he will soon have to take the step up to become one of the best in the world.