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MICAH RICHARDS: Brilliant Jude Bellingham simply must play for England. His time is now

It was April 2021 when I first wrote about Jude Bellingham in these pages. I had seen him in action a few days earlier, for Borussia Dortmund against Manchester City in a Champions League quarter-final first leg, and had been blown away.

The argument I made about Bellingham was the need for time. He was 17 and was clearly settling in quickly, but I was concerned about the expectations placed on his young shoulders and I didn’t want to start a clamor that he was central to England’s ambitions at the European Championships.

“If it were me, I’d leave him off the team,” I said. “This kid has his whole career ahead of him and taking things slow now can have spectacular results. Let him blossom and eventually something special can happen.’

Bellingham ended up making the Euro 2020 squad, but he was handled conservatively and judiciously by Gareth Southgate, who made three substitute appearances en route to the final – eight minutes against Croatia and 22 minutes against the Czech Republic in the group stage, and 25 minutes. minutes against Ukraine in the last eight.

Young star Jude Bellingham will play for England after being used sporadically so far
Young star Jude Bellingham will play for England after being used sporadically so far

Young star Jude Bellingham will play for England after being used sporadically so far

Here we are 18 months later from that column and again I’ve just watched Bellingham play for Borussia Dortmund against Manchester City in the Champions League.

This time my argument is much more straightforward: play him.

I still have to do a double take when I look at his age. He is 19 and runs midfield in games of the highest standard.

When I was 19 in the England squad I was trying to find my feet and not look like a scared rabbit, but this kid is just incredible.

It wasn’t just his goals – the way he arrived to instinctively go in – against City that made him stand out. It was the way he yelled at people, ordered them around and demanded the best from them with his intelligence and fearlessness.

Despite his young age, he has proven himself to be an incredible player for Borussia Dortmund
Despite his young age, he has proven himself to be an incredible player for Borussia Dortmund

Despite his young age, he has proven himself to be an incredible player for Borussia Dortmund

The words ‘could be’ are no longer appropriate when discussing him. There’s no ‘could be’ about it – Jude Bellingham is already incredible and he’s going to be the heart of this England team for many years to come and I can’t wait to see his progress.

It is his time. I have no doubt at all that he will be central to Southgate’s plans in Qatar – not just in his squad but his starting line-up for the opener against Iran – and these two Nations League games against Italy and Germany are the perfect opportunity to watch him blossom.

I can understand why Liverpool were so heavily linked with him this summer and why Jurgen Klopp is said to be a huge admirer – there will no doubt be plenty of interest in every transfer window from now on.

He is special and you can see him playing for any team – be it Liverpool, Manchester City, Real Madrid or whoever.

Let us all hope that his progress for club and country is as excellent as we think it can be.

Bellingham have been heavily linked with a move to the Premier League, particularly Liverpool
Bellingham have been heavily linked with a move to the Premier League, particularly Liverpool

Bellingham have been heavily linked with a move to the Premier League, particularly Liverpool

1663719461 425 MICAH RICHARDS Brilliant Jude Bellingham simply must play for England
1663719461 425 MICAH RICHARDS Brilliant Jude Bellingham simply must play for England

Gareth missing a trick with the Maddison snub

James Maddison’s England career total comes to just 34 minutes in a 7-0 win over Montenegro in November 2019.

It has been nearly three years since he last represented his country, but there are no signs that his exile will end anytime soon.

It’s such a shame. I would have loved to have seen him in this latest squad for the games against Italy and Germany and I think the Leicester midfielder has played well enough to be included in the group Gareth Southgate selected.

Leicester were beaten 6-2 by Tottenham on Saturday, but Maddison could not have done more to turn things Leicester’s way – scoring the goal just before the break that leveled them.

He played as he always does, with fearlessness and guile, and that’s hard to do in a struggling team.

James Maddison has only played 34 minutes for England but should have been in this squad
James Maddison has only played 34 minutes for England but should have been in this squad

James Maddison has only played 34 minutes for England but should have been in this squad

Maddison has three goals so far this season. He scored 18 in 53 games last year and I’ve seen enough of him to feel confident in saying that there is so much more maturity in his game. He can pick a pass and take an excellent set-piece; he works hard, runs miles and is always enthusiastic. But for England he is still overlooked.

Southgate has been afraid of so many things during his time in charge of England and it’s not a view intended to cause any distraction. But I just feel like not giving him an opportunity to see if he can transfer his talents to the highest level is missing a trick.

Admittedly, Maddison did himself no favors when he was photographed in a casino in October 2019, the night England played the Czech Republic. Maddison had pulled out of the squad for that game after saying he was unwell and it didn’t look good – although he was handed his only England cap a month later.

At the time Southgate said Maddison would have ‘learned a lesson the hard way’ but as things stand I wonder if the England manager will see if there has been any change from a player who has so many different properties.

In this squad for the matches against Italy and Germany, England have 12 defenders. When you consider that Declan Rice can also play as a central defender, it means that caution and keeping things close is their priority. For what other reason would there be 13 defenders?

Maddison's work rate at Leicester has been evident even when the Foxes have struggled
Maddison's work rate at Leicester has been evident even when the Foxes have struggled

Maddison’s work rate at Leicester has been evident even when the Foxes have struggled

Even with Kalvin Phillips retiring over the weekend, there wasn’t even a slight possibility that Maddison would be drafted in as a wildcard to fill the void.

Gareth’s argument will surely refer to the four Nations League games in June. He played 4-3-3 against Hungary, in the last game at Molineux, and ended up seeing England picked off on the counter-attack and losing 4-0.

He has studied the results of tournaments over a number of years and the most successful teams are the ones who keep clean sheets and of course I respect that point of view – how could you not respect a man who has taken England to a World Cup semi-final. final and EC final?

However, taking the final step requires players who have the courage to take risks and play passes that have a bit of imagination. In the Euro 2020 final, for example, I never thought England would win once Leonardo Bonucci had equalized for Italy.

Maddison could have changed the Euro 2020 final late on alongside England's Harry Kane
Maddison could have changed the Euro 2020 final late on alongside England's Harry Kane

Maddison could have changed the Euro 2020 final late on alongside England’s Harry Kane

At that point in a game where things are tight, Maddison would be a great option to introduce, e.g. in the 70th minute. He has the tools to change the direction of the game and provide the ingenuity that makes the difference.

Of course I understand the value of clean sheets, but concentrating on the defensive side takes away so much else.

It would be understandable to prioritize the back four if we had the best back four or five in the world, but we haven’t got that.

I sympathize with Maddison because it must be hard knowing he is playing so well in a World Cup year, but for all he is pushing, the door back to the England team won’t open. He has the qualities to offer this England team so much. It’s a shame I feel we won’t be seeing them in Qatar.

It's a shame that Maddison's qualities look like they've missed the plane to Qatar this year
It's a shame that Maddison's qualities look like they've missed the plane to Qatar this year

It’s a shame that Maddison’s qualities look like they’ve missed the plane to Qatar this year

Alexander-Arnold can be England’s weapon

When I support someone, I do it wholeheartedly, and I never give them anything but 100 percent. I’ve done this with Trent Alexander-Arnold, I’m one of his biggest cheerleaders and I’m looking for him to raise his standards again.

In this crucial two-month period leading into Qatar, Trent must ensure that he gives his critics no reason whatsoever to question him.

His attacking prowess has never been in doubt and his output speaks for itself.

Trent Alexander-Arnold's production speaks for itself and he will be crucial to England's next decade
Trent Alexander-Arnold's production speaks for itself and he will be crucial to England's next decade

Trent Alexander-Arnold’s production speaks for itself and he will be crucial to England’s next decade

But the microscope has often been on the other end of the field, and now more than ever he must be 100 percent focused on the defensive side of his game.

I always thought Trent would be an England player for 10 years and more. He has exceptional ability and he sees the game differently from other right backs.

A fully focused Trent, playing at the peak of his abilities, would be an excellent weapon for England in the coming months.

The Liverpool man must be 100% focused on his defensive play as England face crucial ties
The Liverpool man must be 100% focused on his defensive play as England face crucial ties

The Liverpool man must be 100% focused on his defensive play as England face crucial ties

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