Home » Jude Bellingham: England have finally created a generational talent

Jude Bellingham: England have finally created a generational talent

Jude Bellingham famously wore the No.22 shirt early in his career. As he and his youth coach at Birmingham City wanted him to be the complete midfielder, combining aspects of a No.4 , No.8  and No.10.

But after his thunderous headed goal against Serbia gave England a winning start in Euro 2024, perhaps the number should be upgraded to 31. Because his goal was the hallmark of a classic No.9. Drawing comparisons with Alan Shearer and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The midfielder has a rarely-seen-before versatility and a win-at-all-costs mentality which previous generations have also lacked.

Even taking away the fact he scored the only goal of the game, Bellingham was England’s standout performer in Gelsenkirchen. At times playing in every role aside from goalkeeper. And if, for whatever reason, he ever had to put on the gloves and guard the net. One imagines he could give Jordan Pickford a run for his money.

England’s overall performance against Serbia made for familiar viewing, a strong start giving way to a lack of control. But for another reason it felt entirely unique. Now the Three Lions have a player they have never had before. He might hail from Birmingham, but Bellingham is built differently to the rest of his compatriots.

All on the line

 Jude Bellingham has shown fearlessness throughout his career, from making his first-team debut for Birmingham one month after his 16th birthday, to rejecting Manchester United and Chelsea to move abroad to Borussia Dortmund instead.

He wasn’t cowed when he signed for Real Madrid and became their second-most expensive signing of all time, scoring more goals in his first 15 appearances than club legends Ronaldo, Raul or Alfredo di Stefano.

On Sunday, he showed fearlessness in a more traditional sense, bravery in the face of the real threat of getting his face smashed. When he leapt to meet Bukayo Saka’s deflected cross, he very nearly crashed into the head of Milos Veljkovic. But he dived to meet the ball with such relish, as if getting on the end of the cross was the most important thing in the world. He showed no regard for his safety or his front teeth; all that mattered was scoring.

Shearer, who was commentating on the game for the BBC, had scored plenty of headers like it for club and country, although his strikes for Newcastle against Bayer Leverkusen and Manchester City were most reminiscent of it. Ronaldo’s header for Manchester United at Roma in 2008 also came to mind.

Jude Bellingham – graceful gladiator

Jude Bellingham’s personality could also be seen when he barged into Serbia’s Filip Kostic, or when he held his arms up to the fans, urging them to make more noise. England, in fairness, have had plenty of charismatic players with gladiatorial spirit before. John Terry, Stuart Pearce, Paul Ince and Terry Butcher instantly come to mind, but none of them had the grace of Bellingham.

The 20-year-old looked like a ballet dancer at times, waltzing past opponents while under pressure to either dribble his way out of trouble or win a foul, buying England crucial time as they struggled to hold on to their lead in the second half.

His passing was also exceptional. Bellingham had more touches than any England player, making the most passes and still ending the game with a 96 percent pass completion rate. Bellingham’s passing from deep brought back memories of Steven Gerrard. But whilst Gerrard often made rash decisions with the ball and was too hasty. Bellingham played with a sense of calm.

He was not afraid to do the dirty work, though. He won more tackles than any of his team-mates, taking the ball on three of his four attempts. He also won nine duels.

Huge personality

In Gelsenkirchen,  Jude Bellingham showed the continent what he has been showing for Real Madrid all season. And what he had done before at Dortmund: that he is the complete footballer. But anyone who has watched his career with interest could have seen it coming.

“There’s talent that whispers, and talent that yells right in your face, and that was Jude,” said Kevin Betsy, Bellingham’s coach at England between the age of 13 and 16, speaking to The Times.

“His personality on the pitch was huge. Jude’s a generational talent. Many players have shown the level Jude has shown, but his character and mentality, his bravery and personality to demand the ball, or to push the game in a direction it needs to go in for him to affect the game, was always evident from a really young age.”

That personality could be seen throughout Bellingham’s performance and in his post-match interview with BBC Sport, when he declared: “I am willing to do whatever it takes and am ready to do everything to help the country win this football tournament.”

Someone to rely on

That personality will serve England well, because if there is one thing the national team has lacked through the years despite huge talent and huge expectations, it is belief to get over the line.

That lack of confidence was evident after taking the lead against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and in the Euro 2020 final, and it seeped into the team in the second half against Serbia. But Jude Bellingham stayed focused and helped pull England through.

“He’s taken the game by the scruff of the neck and this is what you need,” said BBC pundit Micah Richards. “His composure is remarkable. He’s the leader in this team at such a young age and he knows it. He’s got a great attitude, he’s got everything. He manages the game really well. If he can keep that form throughout the tournament then he is the man we can rely on.”

Rio Ferdinand added: “He’s come out today with the attitude knowing it’s his game. He’s said ‘guys, this is my game and I am him’.”

Jude Bellingham – ‘Champion’s mentality’

Gareth Southgate had insisted before the tournament that he did not want England to rely on Jude Bellingham to lift them up, warning he did not want to burden him with that responsibility. But Bellingham seems to thrive in that role and he was the one who kept England going when Serbia came back into the match after half-time.

“His greatest strength is his mentality. He has a champion’s mentality. There are very, very few players like that. A player who always thinks it will work out well; we are going to win,” Pep Clotet, the coach who gave Bellingham his Birmingham debut aged 16, told The Telegraph.

Clotet also summed up what makes England’s man of the moment so special. He added: “Right now, we are living in a football-era based on speciality. Everyone has to have one good talent. Jude Bellingham has them all. Jude can assist. Jude can play in the pocket. Jude can play in space. He can defend, attack, make deep runs, is good in the air, scores goals. He can play any position in the midfield.

“For England he has played as a No.6, in the centre, he played with us and with Real Madrid as a false winger with a lot of freedom, who can attack from deep lines. He plays as a 10 and an 8. He is a very complete midfielder and this is not something you find in the world right now. That makes him very, very special.”

One of a kind

Clotet was spot-on when he called Bellingham “a true midfielder” but he got one thing wrong when he claimed: “England has always had a history of very complete, rounded midfielders. Jude is the next one.”

England have had many good midfielders. From enforcers such as Ince, Nobby Stiles and Owen Hargreaves, to playmakers such as Paul Gascoigne, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Glenn Hoddle. And a goal-scoring machines like Bryan Robson, Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Bobby Charlton. But they have never had anyone like Bellingham. He combines all his predecessors’ qualities with his own unique sense of swagger.

Perhaps Bellingham’s greatest asset is the fact that he looked to move away from England so young. Finishing his football education in Germany and doing his post-graduate in Spain. He is a cultured footballer who has travelled the continent. He already played with the best players, absorbing their ideas and their mentality.

England should not rely solely on Bellingham, but they should be inspired by him. And when they face Denmark in Frankfurt on Thursday, they should not just be looking up to him. But to embody the same spirit he has shown throughout his short yet remarkable career.