In Jude Bellingham, England see the next Steven Gerrard

It always seems to start with Jude Bellingham for England. The Three Lions’ opening scorer, was at it once again this time jamming with Jordan Henderson for the first of their 3 goals against Senegal in the Round of 16. In what was a momentum-reorienting pass, Bellingham set up his senior teammate for his first, charging forward and passing the ball back as Henderson showed hot heels to deflect the ball into the goal.

The smooth unfussed move of the tandem, set the tone for the rest of what was a rather rare stress-free knockout game for England. It was a stub of Bellingham’s initial creative genius that would give England their second goal as well, putting captain Harry Kane on the scoreboard. That Bellingham spark of a pass came from deep in the midfield.

The Henderson goal might even have raised hopes at Anfield, with Liverpool wooing Bellingham aggressively to slot him in as the sharp-edge of their midfield triad, with Henderson shepherding him from a step behind as one of two holding midfielders.

Yet Bellingham’s story is of the one-off non-Premiership England player – a mere teenager, blending his way back into English football after being camped at Borussia Dortmund where he plays unlike all of his other teammates at Qatar.

The 19-year-old has been compared with Patrick Vieira, Steven Gerrard and even Roy Keane by former midfielder Paul Ince according to evening ahead of the Senegal match. His jersey number got to be 22 because Mike Dodds, his coach at Birmingham academy, reckoned he was an all-rounder, all-doer.

Ince, crinkling his nose at medios who stay limited in ‘designated positions’ gushed about how Bellingham stood out. “He is an authentic box-to-box midfielder player. He has all the attributes of a six, an eight and a ten,” evening news quoted him as saying.

At Dortmund, Bellingham’s best friend is the American USMNT player Gio Reyna. The two exchanged messages “within 30 seconds” of the draw placing US and England in the same group at the World Cup. “We have been talking some ‘smack’, but I love him,” Reyna would tell Guardian ahead of their game. “We sit next to each other on the bus, and when we fly we normally sit very close. It is just a really good relationship. We really feed off each other on and off the field. He is a really good player and we will both be ready to battle.”

But the affection extends to marveling at Bellingham’s abilities. “What separates him is his ability to be able to do everything,” Reyna would tell Guardian. “There aren’t many things you can point at that he cannot do. He is a competitor. He can do everything. [If you] ask him to play left wing or left-back, he could probably do both.” Even in goal? “Yeah,” Reyna would pipe up.

Yet, when Southgate summoned him for England duties back in 2020, Bellingham’s fears were different – and typical of a teenager’s. They mostly had to do with him wondering if he would “fit in.”

Speaking ahead of the last-16 match to talkSport, Bellingham would say: “The thing I was most worried about was I’m playing in Germany and they are going to be talking about their games at the weekend and they won’t have a clue what we have done or who I am, or how I played, or whatever so it will be difficult, but it turns out they do when you just get chatting and they take interest and I’m obviously interested in what those guys are up to. You really overthink it before you come in and you just realise they are great lads.”

Ice-breaking was rather nervy too.

He was especially wary of how it would go with Jack Grealish who moved from the Midlands – that’s home for Bellingham – to Man City. With Aston Villa and Birmingham as local rivals, Bellingham dreaded the “meet Jack.”

“I remember the first encounter I had in the squad,” he recalled to talkSport. “I’ve come down for lunch and it’s just been announced I’m with the senior team. I played for Blues (Birmingham City) and Jack played for Villa at the time and I always thought, do you reckon it would be awkward? He’s Villa, I’m Blues. I’ve got no problem with him, I’ve never met him, but would it be awkward?” The Stourbridge lad would wonder. “I don’t know what he’d say about it and I think it was the year after he’d been punched in the back of the head so I was thinking, who knows if he holds that grudge or whatever. Then we’ve just come to the lunch line and he’s given me a massive hug straight away and I just felt, yeah this is going to be sound.”

The move to Germany posed some basic challenges: not yet allowed to legally drive on the country’s roads, Bellingham was taken to training each day by one of his parents – father Mark or mother, Denise, while the other stayed back to look after his younger football sibling, Jobe.

Tales of his German stay would also lead to some merriment at the World Cup over the last weekend, with Jordan Henderson (32) pulling his leg quite a bit. England’s Conor Coady would tell BBC Radio Five: “Hendo looks after Jude like there is no tomorrow. Jude is a young lad, sometimes we forget that because he is so mature and a fantastic footballer. I would say someone like Henderson and [Kyle] Walker set the example. He [Bellingham] said something the other day about his mum making his bed, no word of a lie. We are talking about Jude Bellingham here, one of the best players in the world, and Hendo sat up at dinner and went ‘What?’ and Jude went ‘Yeah, my mum makes my bed’. So Hendo is battering him.” The banter has been central to Bellingham blending back in, besides the tactical neat-fit for Henderson as Southgate switched from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3.

When Trent Alexander-Arnold posted a picture of a stroll with Bellingham in front of Lusail’s Crescent Tower, he got dubbed ‘Agent Trent’ for trying to whisk Bellingham Liverpool-wards. Bellingham’s stock has risen with Dortmund pricing him between £100-150million. described how others from the support staff helped him ease his way into the England team. Like Southend legend and former coach Chris Powell, now assistant coach to Southgate, who had given the England star his Southend kit. His father was a Shrimpers supporter who regularly watched Powell in action at Roots Hall. “I always see his dad and Jude always jokes about him not to bow at my feet! I believe his dad was a regular on the terraces back in the 90s and I gave some of my kit from when I was manager,” Powell recalled.

While staying away and playing in Germany, Bellingham would look for YouTube clips of his favourite radio-voice, Rangers legend Ally McCoist, the Scottish pundit turned World Cup fortune teller who is a bit of a Tik-Tok sensation. McCoist recently famously predicted how Ayew would miss a spot kick, in his own inimitable hoot fashion. Bellingham told talkSport of his must-listen: “I love him. Honestly. Every time he is on the radio, I always listen. We don’t really get it in Germany so we just get the clips on YouTube and Twitter and stuff and I just find him so funny. When he does commentary on the games, it’s way more enjoyable them games somehow. I like him a lot. He’s so funny. I love him.”

Bellingham recently became England’s second youngest ever scorer at the World Cup – he was third youngest after Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney to play. When Dortmund signed Bellingham for £25million in June 2020 from Birmingham, the transfer fee made Bellingham the most expensive 17 year-old in the history of football. Earlier, Bellingham had emerged as the youngest captain in Dortmund’s history, when he was given the armband for the Black & Yellows’ league game against Cologne aged 19 years and 98 days.

Rooney’s last few playing years at Derby coincided with Bellingham’s first few. Speaking to the talkSPORT Breakfast show about the teenager, Rooney said: “I played against Bellingham when he was at Birmingham and I was at Derby. And he actually man-marked me during the game, I think he was about 16, maybe just 17, and what I really liked about him is every time I passed the ball off, he’d leave a stud in on me. And I remember thinking, ‘he’s got something about him’, and just to show the character to go out to Germany and take that league by storm. That mentality to perform, obviously he’s been captain in quite a few of the games as well, he’s going to be a huge player for England. Just that mentality, even though he’s young, he can put some of that character into some of the rest of the squad,” he’d say.

Comparisons with Steven Gerrard brought out the wiseness gleaming out of him – as the teen asserted he was different from his hero even if he respected him mightily. He told BBC: “I’m not sure how I feel because you know, it’s almost a bit disrespectful to him really, with all he’s achieved in the game, to then say that after three years we have similarities. I think I just want to be Jude and kind of go on my own path.” It could well be a World Cup winning path for the 19 year old.

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