Jude Bellingham stands on the verge of an England U21 call-up years ahead of schedule. If his seamless adaptation to life at Borussia Dortmund is anything to go by, it will be the latest milestone of a career packed full of promise that the 17-year-old takes in his stride.
“To be honest, I do not feel any pressure. The pressure I put myself under is bigger than any price tag.”
Bellingham spoke with all the confidence of a player who had just became the most-expensive 17-year-old in football history on his arrival in Germany in July, and his actions since have been punctuated by the same degree of surety.
Here, with the help of Sky Germany reporter Jesco von Eichmann, we assess Bellingham’s start to life at Dortmund which could result in his fast-tracking through the England age groups into Aidy Boothroyd’s U21 squad…
Many, far more experienced players, have taken their eye off the ball after putting pen to paper on a transfer of life-changing proportions and allowed the magnitude of a big-money move get to their heads. But not Bellingham.
Instead of marking the completion of a journey, it was apparent early on that signing for Dortmund was just the beginning of a greater process of development.
“I want to get as many minutes of play as possible – even in the big games,” Bellingham outlined from the get-go. “I want to provide assists, score goals and perform well.”
Jude Bellingham says he could not pass up the opportunity to sign for Borussia Dortmund from Birmingham.
In the month that has passed since those encouraging words were spoken, Bellingham participated in a gruelling Dortmund pre-season training camp before seizing the chance to show what he can do in a competitive environment.
He featured in Dortmund’s three pre-season victories over Rheindorf Altach, Austria Wien and MSV Duisburg – won by an aggregate score of 22-3 – and has wasted no time in delivering on the promises he outlined at his unveiling.
“Jude Bellingham played like he was born in Black and Yellow,” von Eichmann explains. “He has made a positive impression through his whole time at Borussia Dortmund.
“He played, as if he’d been there for years already. He was the go-to guy in the midfield. In his first game he was involved in three goals, he scored in his second.
“The young Englishman didn’t need any time to settle in and has been the director in midfield. He has proven his quality already. Despite his age Bellingham has already come a long way.”
Trading home comforts for a move abroad is a gamble at the best of times, and one seldom undertaken by young English talent, all of which makes Bellingham’s start to life at Dortmund the more impressive.
Key to his adaptation has been the development of a friendship with a team-mate who blazed a trail for English players abroad – Jadon Sancho, who laid on the assist for Bellingham to open his Dortmund account in the 11-2 thrashing of Austria Wien.
“Bellingham seems to feel very well – on and off the pitch,” von Eichmann explains. “What helps is players like Sancho, like Giovanni Reyna and Erling Haaland are all around the same age and crucially speak English.
“And that has borne out on the pitch. The atmosphere in the team was good, the level of practice units was amazing, and the early results have been spot on.
“Dortmund’s youngsters are working well, and the club is right on target in terms of their sporting direction.”
Dortmund to put faith in youth
Dortmund ended the 2019/20 Bundesliga campaign 13 points adrift of champions Bayern Munich.
Their bid to deny the recently-crowned champions of Europe a ninth consecutive German title has been entrusted to Bellingham and a group of exciting, young and somewhat inexperienced players.
Bellingham has yet to feature in top-flight football, but it is only a matter of time before he does, and he’s in line to play a crucial role as Dortmund look to win their first title since 2012.
“Dortmund start the season with a highly-talented but extremely young team,” von Eichmann explains. “Bellingham and Reyna are the youngest at 17, while Sancho, Haaland and Mateu Morey are 20.
“All are all candidates for regular places but, for me, Bellingham is already a player for the starting team. He will be a full member of Lucien Favre’s team.
“I guess that will mean he gets the minutes on the pitch he wants. Initially these will come as a substitute and, if he keeps developing like he is, then as a starter.”
Bellingham’s England breakthrough?
Every once in a while, a talented player emerges who develops at such a rate they outgrow the respective youth levels of international football.
In the case of England, Wayne Rooney is a notable example of an extraordinary talent who was fast-tracked through the age groups, but not even the Three Lions’ all-time leading goalscorer generated the response from FA Bellingham could.
FA’s coaches are pushing for the Dortmund midfielder to jump four age groups, and he looks set to be selected in the England U21 squad this week.
It’s an unprecedented move for a player who only turned 17 in June and has only represented his country at U15, U16 and U17 level, but Bellingham’s start to life at Dortmund suggests have made him an ideal candidate for the FA’s programme of acceleration.
Who’s Bellingham competing with?
In terms of direct competition, Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden and Everton midfielder Tom Davies are nailed down as regulars in the engine room of Boothroyd’s England U21 squad, earning 32 caps between them.
Bellingham would be challenging the likes of Arsenal’s Joe Willock, Tottenham’s Oliver Skipp, Burnley’s Dwight McNeil, West Ham’s Grady Diangana and Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher, players who are between two and five years older than him, for a midfield supporting role initially.
But as Mason Greenwood has shown since breaking into the U21 fold as a 17-year-old, age does not stand in the way of pure talent coming to the fore.
The opportunities have been laid out in front of Bellingham at Dortmund, and England are expected to follow suit. The footballing world is at his feet and his first steps suggest it will be journey worth following closely.