AL WAKRAH, Qatar – When England returned to their base in Al Wakrah in the early hours of Monday morning after beating Senegal 3-0 in the Round of 16 of the World Cup, they were greeted by what is become a usual dancing hotel welcome party. staff and loud music. Jack Grealish fidgeted with joy; Mason Mount’s beaming smile lit up the room. Somewhere in the fray, Jude Bellingham politely, but pointedly just walked straight ahead, saying “I have no movement.”
The rest of the world would disagree. In fact, it’s practically the only time Bellingham has not on the front of the stage since his arrival in Qatar. Ahead of a quarter-final encounter with defending champions France on Saturday, the 19-year-old threatens to become the star of the tournament, revolutionizing the England midfield with a series of dynamic displays, while appearing delightfully oblivious to the magnitude of the occasion.
Bellingham was no stranger before this World Cup, having progressed rapidly over the past two and a half years at Borussia Dortmund. His maturity was recognized in October by being named captain for several matches and becoming the youngest skipper to score in the Champions League against Sevilla.
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Former club Birmingham City retired their No.22 shirt when they left in the summer of 2020, choosing Dortmund over Manchester United. Birmingham were ridiculed at the time because teenager Bellingham had only been in the first team for a single season, but it’s starting to look like recognition of the unique talent they had discovered.
It’s always a sign of the impression a player makes on a global scale when journalists from around the world arrive at press conferences in England and ask questions about an individual. Time and again, Qatar focused on Bellingham and as a result, camp members tried to downplay him.
Phil Foden was a prime example of trying and failing to toe the party line in seeking to avoid the kind of hyperbole that could put pressure on a teenager who continues to make his way through the game. not fatten him too much because he’s still young,” Foden began after another Bellingham masterclass against Senegal, before adding: “But he’s one of the most gifted players I’ve ever seen. He has no weaknesses in his game. I think he will be the best midfielder in the world.”
Foden isn’t the only one who can’t help but get carried away. “I always say he’s the future, but he’s the present,” said winger Bukayo Saka, while England captain Harry Kane described Bellingham’s game as “without weakness”.
Even Steve Holland, the mild-mannered and considered assistant to Gareth Southgate, marveled at Bellingham’s overall contribution to this tournament. “There are only three things you can do in football: save goals, score goals, score goals,” he said on Monday. “That’s how you contribute. Jude can do all those things. And recently he’s started scoring goals, which makes the biggest players big. It’s an ability to win games that he adds to his game.”
Dortmund head coach Edin Terzic called Bellingham “the oldest 19-year-old player I have ever seen”, and the maturity he showed in Qatar may have been the aspect the most impressive of its development.
Very few things fazed him. Only USA flashed Bellingham in their 0-0 Group B clash as they identified him as the main threat in midfield. Gregg Berhalter’s own tireless trio – Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah – managed to call it off to the point that it was pulled for Jordan Henderson.
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But in the other three matches, Bellingham made game-changing contributions. He scored England’s first goal of the tournament in a 6-2 win over Iran, and set up England’s first goal in the 3-0 win over Wales. Against Senegal, the way he advanced, tackling before executing a perfectly timed pass in a counter-attack that ended with Kane’s first goal in those finals, was a defining moment in his career. (He also assisted on Henderson’s goal, which opened the scoring.)
Bellingham is threatening to resolve a position England have struggled with for years. Central midfield has been England’s weakness, even in recent times of strength. They usually don’t keep the ball well enough against top teams, and the familiar pattern of their 2018 World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia and last summer’s Euro 2020 final loss to Italy highlighted one of the few areas that still needs improvement under Southgate.
England have long been thought to lack a Luka Modric or Marco Verratti-style player, someone with the intelligence to control a game, acting almost like a metronome, if necessary. Bellingham isn’t quite that guy either, but he’s quickly becoming the complete midfielder.
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From England’s first four matches, Bellingham have amassed a goal, an assist, a 93% completion rate (best only by John Stones and Declan Rice among England regulars) and 23 ball recoveries, more than anything. another English player. The composition of the England midfielder has been designed to get the best out of him. Southgate included Henderson alongside Rice in a 4-3-3 form against Senegal as it allowed Bellingham a bit more security to go and affect play in the attacking areas.
The France midfielder has been weakened by pre-tournament injuries to N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba, so Southgate must weigh in on how expansive he thinks England can be against the defending champions, but give Bellingham as much opportunities to influence the game as possible will be very important. in his mind.
And it’s not just the French who noticed it. The Bellingham club’s future is the subject of much speculation, with talks over a €150m transfer fee. ESPN previously reported that Liverpool are leading the race for his signature, but Real Madrid and Manchester City are among the clubs that haven’t given up hope yet.
The sight of Bellingham forming such a close bond with Liverpool’s Henderson on this trip is positive for Southgate, but it could also be the same for Reds boss Jurgen Klopp, who has made the teenager his main transfer target. in the middle of the field.
Europe’s elite clubs all want it. Bellingham really has more moves than he thinks.