Jude Bellingham has been called up to the senior England squad by Gareth Southgate for the first time after a whirlwind year that has seen him burst onto the biggest stage with Borussia Dortmund.
Prior to this season, Bellingham’s senior career had consisted of 41 matches for Birmingham City in the English Championship and three cup games. His debut saw him become the youngest player in the club’s history at 16 years and 38 days, while he also claimed the record for youngest goalscorer on his first league start at 16 years and 63 days.
Despite Birmingham battling against relegation all season, his displays with his hometown club attracted attention from across Europe. If reports are to be believed, Dortmund fought off interest from the likes of Manchester United to land the then 17-year-old’s signature in the summer. Following the move, Birmingham retired his No.22 shirt to serve as inspiration to other youngsters.
And those aspiring players will have been even more motivated once they saw Bellingham in action for BVB.
Watch: Bellingham’s first day at Borussia Dortmund
The teenager was thrown in at the deep end and handed his club debut from the start in the DFB Cup first round away at Duisburg. He was one of the liveliest players – at both ends – despite only playing the first half. His two interceptions equalled the most for a Borussia player across the whole 90 minutes, while only Thorgan Hazard (10) and Emre Can (9), who both played the full game, contested more challenges than Bellingham (8). And he also got on the scoresheet inside just 30 minutes after breaking forward to tuck away a Hazard flick.
Head coach Lucien Favre was so impressed that he opted to test the teenager again in the opening game of the Bundesliga season against last season’s fourth-place side and UEFA Champions League competitors, Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Again, Bellingham did far more than just tread water and instead got stuck in, contesting challenges and also teeing up Gio Reyna’s opening goal. It made him the youngest player since data collection began in 2004 to provide an assist in the Bundesliga, at 17 years and 82 days.
As well as being a regular in the domestic starting XI, the September 2020 Bundesliga Rookie of the Month was again trusted by Favre for the first Champions League game of the season and started alongside now regular midfield partner Axel Witsel against Lazio. Prior to his call-up to the Three Lions, Bellingham had featured in 11 of Dortmund’s 12 competitive matches during 2020/21.
Watch: Dortmund’s teenage dreamers
His position in the BVB midfield is more than justified in his numbers, which impress from defence through to attack.
Bellingham’s addition, quality and quick settling in has allowed Favre to use long-time midfielder Can in his back three, meaning four players have been competing for two midfield slots. Out of the quartet of Bellingham, Witsel, Mo Dahoud and Thomas Delaney, only the Englishman has had a hand in a goal this Bundesliga campaign. He’s also had the most shots (7), created the most chances (8) and attempted the most attacking take-ons (22), despite playing fewer minutes than Witsel and Delaney.
Admittedly, those two are the more defensive-minded and deeper-lying of the quartet, yet Bellingham still averages more touches per 90 minutes (95.2) than the far more experienced 31-year-old Belgian (76.4) and 29-year-old Dane (82.4). The teenager also contests more challenges per 90 minutes (30.6) than Witsel (18.8) and Delaney (21.7).
While those displays may have impressed internally in Dortmund, how does the 17-year-old compare with some of the Bundesliga’s big hitters? We put him up against Bayern Munich duo Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka, Gladbach’s newly capped senior Germany international Florian Neuhaus, and RB Leipzig’s experienced Kevin Kampl.
The Bayern pair have both been directly involved in more goals – perhaps unsurprisingly for a team that has equalled the Bundesliga record after seven matchdays – but Bellingham comes out ahead of both Neuhaus and Kampl.
When it comes to being on the ball, only Kimmich (101.1) averages slightly more touches per 90 minutes than Bellingham (95.2), who comes out well ahead of Goretzka (67.0), Neuhaus (76.2) and Kampl (77.6). It’s the same in terms of attacking take-ons, where only Kimmich (25) has attempted more in total than Bellingham (22) despite playing over 100 minutes more.
When it comes to average challenges, the future England player (30.6) is even heads above all four, with Kimmich the closest challenger on 22.3.
It puts Bellingham in pretty good Bundesliga company, so how about his status among his future England teammates? He was supposed to feature for the U21s in their final UEFA European Championship qualifiers in November but will now be competing alongside the likes of Jordan Henderson, Declan Rice and Harry Winks for a midfield spot as he seeks to become the third-youngest player to represent England, after Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney.
If Bellingham’s history of being thrown in the deep end continues, that should happen. And he’s in with every chance when putting all four head to head.
Looking at the attacking impact, the Dortmund man is the only one of the four to have been involved in a league goal this season, while his seven attempts is only matched by Liverpool captain Henderson.
In general midfield play, Bellingham has contested almost as many challenges (118) as the other three combined (Rice: 75; Henderson: 27; Winks: 20), with West Ham United’s Rice having played two games more. The teenager also averages more passes per game (76.2) than all the others (Henderson: 71.3; Winks: 52.5; Rice: 49.1).
In a more defensive capacity, the potential debutant has made a total of 18 interceptions from his six Bundesliga appearances this season. Of the English Premier League trio, only out-and-out holding midfielder Rice has made more (20 – from 8 games), while Henderson has managed just five and Winks is yet to make one for Tottenham Hotspur.
There have also been comparisons made with former national team greats, for example by former Birmingham, Liverpool and England winger Jermaine Pennant. “He reminds me of a young Steven Gerrard,” Pennant told Talksport when discussing Bellingham earlier this year.
“He throws himself about, he can get up and down the pitch, he can score goals and assist goals, he's got trickery. He's a fantastic young player.”
So, how do Bellingham’s numbers stack up in comparison at this early stage of his career?
Taking perhaps Gerrard’s best campaign in the league (2013/14), he averaged 68.9 passes, 1.5 interceptions, 9.1 duels and 1.86 shots per game. As astonishing as it is, the Dortmund man comes out ahead in each of those categories: 76.2 passes, 4.9 interceptions, 30.6 duels and 1.89 shots per 90 minutes.
It’s a small sample size but still remarkable and hints that Bellingham could well be the box-to-box midfielder that England have struggled to replace since Gerrard won the last of his 114 caps in July 2014 – and more than deserves his spot in Southgate’s squad now and going forward.