Jude Bellingham is that rarest of things: a player so young he might still be learning the footballing ropes yet one who already possesses many of the prerequisites to one day become captain of his club, the mighty Borussia Dortmund.
That BVB coach Edin Terzic recently named the 19-year-old Englishman as the Black-and-Yellows' third skipper behind Marco Reus and Mats Hummels - two players who have acquired legendary status in the Bundesliga - lays bare for all to see the phenomenal progress made in record time by a teenager who is rapidly on his way to footballing greatness.
A tremendous start to his third season in Germany's top flight has many predicting that this could be Bellingham's best campaign yet. And what now seems almost a certainty is that the England international will one day in the not too distant future be the man who leads Die Schwarzgelben out onto the pitch on a regular basis having already worn the armband against Villarreal in pre-season.
Watch: Jude Bellingham - Dortmund's difference maker
"[He] definitely has leadership qualities," Terzic said of the box-to-box midfielder. "He wanted this responsibility, so we were happy to give it him; he's been one of our most consistent players over the past couple of years," the Dortmund tactician added. "Jude came to us as a teenager and is slowly becoming a young adult, both physically and in terms of his character. We all don't even know yet how good he is; we're trying to find out where his limit will be."
It seems almost inconceivable that Bellingham is now just seven games shy of a century of appearances for BVB, since he made his way to the Bundesliga from Birmingham City in 2020. Birmingham's youngest-ever debutant and goalscorer has since played across five midfield positions at Dortmund, making the central role his own while offering the five-time champions additional versatility across the pitch.
With every game, he has become more assured, demanding the ball from teammates, pressing, challenging to win back possession in key areas and laying on both eye-catching assists and goals. In short, Bellingham has become an on-field focal point and source of inspiration for those around him at Dortmund.
"It means a hell of a lot to me to take on the role and responsibility that I have in this team and at this club," the 6'1" dynamo said.
On his arrival at the club, Bellingham's new teammate, Sebastien Haller, added: “Everyone knows that Jude is just a crazy player. At his age, with the abilities he has on the pitch, he will have a great career if he [continues] to play like this."
Seen as one of those who lifts his teammates during training sessions with his wicked sense of humour and training-ground high jinks, Bellingham's demeanour changes once he enters the field of play, his hugely competitive drive taking over. Those immense demands of those around him have - on occasion - led to misunderstandings, with both the player and his coach admitting it is an area that can be worked on this season.
"I perhaps overdid it at times," the 2021 DFB Cup winner said of his eagerness to get the message across. "He was one of the most consistent players [last season], but still has to be a little more balanced and controlled in the area of emotions in one situation or another; he will work on that," Terzic added.
In terms of duels won, sprints and intensive runs, Bellingham was in the top three in all categories in the Bundesliga last season. And England's third-youngest debutant continued where he left off in 2022/23, leading the way for Dortmund during their Matchday 1 win against Bayer Leverkusen.
Then, Bellingham's 75 individual ball possessions, 31 tackles and 39 successful passes were all more than any other BVB player managed during the team's opening-day triumph. He would go on to play the entire game at the heart of midfield as Dortmund made it two wins from two with a 3-1 come-from-behind victory at Freiburg.
Steadily building his reputation as one of the Bundesliga's most dependable performers, Bellingham's connection with the passionate Borussia supporters is also growing ever stronger. Blown away by the send-off that club legends Michael Zorc and Marcel Schmelzer received at the Signal Iduna Park on the final day of the 2021/22 campaign, the England international was moved to inform Dortmund's club podcast: "My friend Toby was on the pitch, with Schmelle [Schmelzer] and Zorc, and we were kind of looking at it like: that kind of reaction to what you have achieved, it's priceless."
BVB's No. 22 continued: "You can have all the money you want from playing football and you can buy whatever you want, but being appreciated like that for creating so many memories for so many people ... winning the league, however many cups and winning the Champions League - that lives longer than any car you could buy or any house you could buy. That's the thing that motivates me to create memories in football that I will remember forever and other people will remember forever."
Inspiring words from the man who could one day be Borussia Dortmund's next captain fantastic.
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