It was a stark reminder of just how young the player who is now likely to fill Jordan Henderson’s shoes during this tournament really is. “I need to talk to his father to talk to him, on a child protection basis,” said Gareth Southgate. “Yet he is a first-team player who plays for a big club in Europe.”
If the England manager wants to have a quiet chat with Jude Bellingham, he will need parental consent, at least until halfway through the tournament, on June 28, when he turns 18.
England have had teenage stars before: Michael Owen was 18 when he scored the tournament goal in France 98 and Wayne Rooney also 18 when he starred at Euro 2004.
Jude Bellingham has a chance to start England’s opening match against Croatia at Wembley
Bellingham became England’s youngest starter in their warm-up win against Austria
But Bellingham, at 17, is technically a kid. And while Rooney, one of Bellingham’s heroes, and Owen play in forward positions, where speed, finishing and impulsiveness are all vital and favor the youth, Bellingham is a key cog in midfield, where cerebral qualities and experience are important .
He is unlikely to play against Romania. On Saturday, he continued to train indoors to control his load. But he barely put a foot wrong last week against Austria and has a chance to start England’s opening game against Croatia next Sunday at Wembley. If he does so, at 17 years and 349 days, he will become England’s youngest player ever to play in a tournament.
It came as no surprise to those who watch it regularly and therein lies another difference from the Owen-Rooney phenomenon. They were teenage stars whose every move in England was magnified by the media; Bellingham’s progress has been under the radar for many, quietly bossing the midfield at Borussia Dortmund, after taking the same route Jadon Sancho had chosen and deciding that playing time was more important than Premier League riches.
“Week in, week out, he will be given the responsibility of leading the game for a team that has reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League,” said Jan Age Fjortoft, the former Middlesbrough striker and now Norwegian TV journalist who watches Dortmund weekly. . “It’s rare for the team to accept that.”
Bellingham and Sancho were key to Dortmund’s victory in the German Cup this season and their qualification for the Champions League. English viewers will no doubt have seen him shine in the quarter-finals of the Champions League against Manchester City.
“This is a 17-year-old, coming from Birmingham, to Dortmund, where they want to fight for the title and the Champions League and they give him that responsibility,” Fjortoft said.
“On the football field, it has nothing to do with age or anything. He is fully accepted at Dortmund. In his position, he can go as far as he can, he can go all the way. The position Jude plays allows him to lead the game from there.
Bellingham pictured with Birmingham City legend Trevor Francis when he was a child
Bellingham has impressed since he joined Borussia Dortmund in Birmingham City from childhood
“In Germany they use numbers to define players, he’s a No 6 or a No 8 or a No 10. And the good thing about Jude is that he can play in any of these positions, he has an overview of the game, he can play behind the attackers. He’s so versatile.’
Indeed, although he is number 26 in this squad, when he initially teamed up with England number 22, his Dortmund number was chosen as it is the sum of number 4 + number 8 + number 10. ‘One of my old coaches from Birmingham , Mike Dodds, always challenged me with it,” Bellingham told the FA’s website.
“You are good at 10, you are good at 8, but how many midfielders, especially English ones, can they do all three? [and play at No4 as well]. I don’t want you to do just one if you have the attributes to do it all.”
So I took that with me and hopefully I will carry it with me for the rest of my career.’ That said, if he had the choice, he would play number 8. ‘I like to tackle and stick with it. With the No8 you can dictate the game and be involved in everything.”
Bellingham’s maturity is striking. Leaving England at 16 to go to Dortmund would have been a challenge at the best of times. During Covid it meant being separated from his father, Mark, and brother, Jobe, 15, who is still with Birmingham. Mark is a non-League police officer and striker, scoring over 700 goals for Leamington, Stourbridge and Halesowen Town. His mother, Denise, shares an apartment with Jude in Dortmund, in his words, ‘hold me grounded’.
Southgate was impressed to see how he interacted with fans in Birmingham as a 16-year-old. “I couldn’t believe some of his interactions with the fans there, at the age of 16 and 17,” said the England manager.
“Not many players have the confidence to get the fans to work and have them roar behind the team when they have just scored and that was important to show the level of his thinking and his comfort in going and putting himself there.” to do that.
His progress at Dortmund was faster than expected and he has justified his call oproep
“I am very, very impressed. We have to make sure we take care of him, that we help with that education and help with that development. We have to protect him at the right times, but he’s doing it the right way.”
For Bellingham, it just seems to come naturally. He loves Birmingham City, seeks their results first on a Saturday, with Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish turning him on Instagram this week about his love of the Blues. “When you come through the ranks and get into the first team, you’re one of their own fans, the fan favorite and you carry the expectations of the city, or the blue half, on your back,” Bellingham said. “I loved every second.” This is not a teen who shuns challenges.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with him as a person,” Southgate said.
“His parents did a fantastic job. He has humility, good manners, confidence and a nice demeanor. I’d say he’s more advanced [as a person] then even football.’
Southgate’s England are big in their national team history. So when a player starts his first game, he is presented with his cap, often by an English legend. With Covid restrictions, that was not possible for Bellingham, who started his first game against Austria last Wednesday.
So Henderson stepped in, delivered the speech and handed Bellingham his cap at a dressing room ceremony. The Liverpool captain, the most experienced player with 58 caps, was the obvious choice, one number 8 after another.
Still, Bellingham can step into those shoes next weekend.
Jordan Henderson handed Bellingham his cap and the youngster was able to fill in for the veteran