German giants Borussia Dortmund have officially confirmed the signing of teenage sensation Jude Bellingham from English Championship outfit Birmingham City.
The deal, which is thought to be worth approximately €20m, is considered a major coup for Dortmund, who beat off competition from big-hitting Premier League duo Manchester United and Chelsea for the 17-year-old’s signature.
Bellingham, who has been capped at Under 15, 16 and Under 17 level for England, made 42 appearances in Birmingham City’s first team this season, and became the Blues’ youngest ever player when he featured in the club’s EFL Cup tie against Portsmouth in August last year, aged just 16 years and 38 days.
At the tender age of 17, Bellingham has opted to change countries, leagues and cultures to further his development in Germany – but how big an impact should the prodigiously talented midfielder be expected to make?
Following in Sancho’s footsteps
Jadon Sancho’s success and rapid progression from teenaged hopeful to global superstar over the past three seasons in the Bundesliga would have strongly influenced Bellingham’s decision to move to Dortmund.
While BVB’s reputation for moulding gifted but inexperienced players into top professionals has been long-standing, Sancho was a trailblazer in that he was one of few young English players to gamble on a move abroad in search of first team opportunities.
Sancho left behind the clogged pathways to the first team at Man City and shone brightly on the stage provided to him by Dortmund almost immediately, and today, the England international is considered one of the game’s most exciting prospects.
Bellingham will hope to emulate Sancho’s success in the same environment over the coming seasons, before following the winger back to the Premier League as a more complete player.
Sancho is expected to complete a major money spinning move back to England this summer, and Bellingham will undoubtedly be targeting a similar stepping-stone switch via Dortmund when he hits his early 20s.
Bellingham’s competition in midfield
Bellingham’s versatility and adaptability are remarkable for one so young, but while the 17-year-old has already shown that he can be deployed in almost any position in the front six, the youngster is most at home in central midfield.
With four goals and two assists in the Championship this term, Bellingham has the technical talents to make an impact near the opponent’s goal, though his 2.2 tackles on average per game figure also highlights a combative streak that should prove extremely useful on the Bundesliga midfield battlegrounds.
When Emre Can, Axel Witsel, Thomas Delaney and Mahmoud Dahoud are all fit, Bellingham will have stiff competition for a midfield berth at Signal Iduna Park next season, though that quartet’s recurring injury and fitness problems should ensure that the Stourbridge-born starlet gets plenty of minutes.
Emre Can and Mahmoud Dahoud appeared in just 12 of Dortmund’s 34 Bundesliga matches during the 2019/20 season, Axel Witsel played 28 times, while Thomas Delany featured just 11 times in total during the entire campaign.
Senior England honours on the horizon?
England manager Gareth Southgate will be monitoring Bellingham’s progress closely as the 17-year-old begins his Bundesliga adventure next season.
While the Three Lions currently have an abundance of options in several areas of the pitch, their alternatives in central midfield have looked a little thin on the ground in comparison.
At present, Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice and Harry Winks are the only natural, traditional central midfielders to regularly appear in Southgate’s England squads, and there could potentially be a gap already open for Bellingham to fill.
A solid start to his first season with Borussia Dortmund in 2020/21 could see Bellingham drafted into the senior England ranks by Southgate before Christmas with one eye on next summer’s European Championships squad.