•Bellingham has been linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs since becoming Birmingham’s youngest player, aged 16 years and 38 days, last August.
•Bellingham broke another club record held by Blues legend Trevor Francis when, aged 16 years and 63 days
For most 17-year-old footballers, signing for a big club in a new country could prove a daunting prospect. But for Jude Bellingham, the England youth midfielder who has joined Borussia Dortmund from Birmingham City, there is evidence the Stourbridge teenager will embrace the challenges thrown up by his move to Germany.
Dortmund turned Jadon Sancho into a senior England international after his arrival from Manchester City in 2017, while winger Ademola Lookman secured a permanent move to RB Leipzig from Everton after scoring five times on loan at the Bundesliga club in 2018 as a 20-year-old.
On top of playing 40 Championship games for Blues this season— of which 31 have been starts— Bellingham has been studying A-level sociology and attended educational workshops surrounding mental health.
“The boy has got an incredible emotional intelligence and maturity for someone of his age,” Kristjaan Speakman, Birmingham’s academy manager, told BBC Sport in March.
‘Jude has done a fantastic job’
Bellingham has been linked with some of Europe’s biggest clubs since becoming Birmingham’s youngest player, aged 16 years and 38 days, last August. Manchester United were keen to sign him and even offered him a tour of their training ground and an introduction to Sir Alex Ferguson around the same time German newspaper Bild reported in March that Borussia Dortmund had agreed a deal to sign him.
Despite speculation surrounding his future, the youngster’s performances in Birmingham’s first team remained consistently high either side of football’s suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic. “I think Jude has done a fantastic job during these months leading up to this situation we have now,” said then Blues boss Pep Clotet in June. “He looks a stronger player in my opinion, he looks very focused.”
Speaking earlier this season about the interest in Bellingham, Spanish coach Clotet added: “We’re aware of interest in him. For the recent game with Middlesbrough, half of Europe was there.”
Representing England at 13
Bellingham broke another club record held by Blues legend Trevor Francis when, aged 16 years and 63 days, he came off the bench to net the winner against Stoke City and become their youngest scorer. He has since gone on to play more than 2,000 Championship minutes in a variety of positions, including central or left-midfield, scoring four times. Bellingham’s tenacity has also seen him appear as a striker in a 4-4-2 formation, as well as in a defensive midfield position.
Those who have worked with him since he joined Blues’ pre-academy programme at the age of seven are not surprised at his rapid rise.
“As Jude moved into the under-12 group, it was becoming more and more noticeable how his learning was accelerating, how he was picking things up very quickly and how he was impacting training sessions and games,” Speakman added. “He has always managed to cope with playing in a higher age group partly because he is such an intelligent player.”
At the age of 13, while a pupil at Priory School in Edgbaston, Bellingham represented England at under-15 level. He has also represented England at Under-16 and Under-17 levels.
‘I’m not sat playing video games’
A bright and articulate young man, Bellingham said in a recent interview how important education was to him. “It keeps me occupied, so I’m not just sitting at home playing video games,” he added. Bellingham’s academic schedule has seen him attend mental health workshops. “It’s great that we’re exposed to these topics at a young age,” he added. “You see the number of males that have chosen to go down the path of suicide and we are in a pressurised environment.
“You never know what people are truly feeling but it’s good to receive that information about spotting signs and how to help.”
Darren Carter, a Birmingham season ticket-holder before playing for Blues in the Premier League after making his debut aged 18, has been just as impressed with Bellingham off the pitch as on it. “The way he talks in-depth and tactically about the game shows how intelligent he is,” Carter said
Bellingham is managed by his family, who live in Stourbridge. His father, Mark, used to be a prolific scorer in non-league football, while younger brother Jobe is also at Birmingham’s academy and has represented England at under-15 level. “He’s from a tight-knit family who have protected and supported him through what has been a fast-paced journey to the first team,” added Speakman.
“You can’t adapt to first-team football as quickly as he has, at the level he has, without having some really good support mechanisms around you. I’m sure he would point to his family as his first port of call.”
Last November, Bellingham accompanied Blues defender Harlee Dean to lay wreaths of poppies at the Hall of Memory war memorial in Birmingham, while he has also raised money for a charity to build a classroom for children in Africa. Despite being propelled into the first team, he continued to socialise with his former academy team-mates.
“He hasn’t played in the FA Youth Cup this season but he was in the changing room celebrating with the players when they got through some of the earlier rounds,” said Speakman.
“That’s the type of kid he is. He’s always willing to help and support the younger boys. “For many of the kids in our system, he’s a role model, which is difficult for a boy of such a young age to cope with. He’s coping admirably with all of those pressures.”
Bellingham will face new pressures playing for one of Germany’s biggest clubs but the signs are promising for someone who only turned 17 on 29 June.