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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, December 9, 2023

The Final Whistle: All eyes on Jude Bellingham

Graphic by Aliza Kibel

Earlier this month, Jude Bellingham made history as the youngest player to captain a Bundesliga team. The 19-year-old wore the armband for Borussia Dortmund in its game against Köln as senior captains Marco Reus and Mats Hummels were sidelined due to injury. 

Later that week, the teenage sensation was in the spotlight again as he led his side to an incredible 4–1 victory against Sevilla in the UEFA Champions League. Despite the added pressure of captaincy, Jude remained unfazed, relishing the role as he dominated Sevilla’s experienced midfield. Bellingham set up Raphaël Guerreiro for Dortmund’s first goal by switching the play with an inch-perfect pass into the path of the Portuguese wingback. For the second, Bellingham capped off a stunning solo run by feinting past Serbian center back Nemanja Gudelj before calmly guiding the ball into the back of the net. An entire stadium deflated by the brilliance of a young boy from Birmingham. 

Bellingham’s footballing journey and eventual rise to stardom began at the Birmingham City academy. Joining at the U8 level, Bellingham quickly rose the ranks, playing with U23 players as a 15-year-old, and began gathering attention for his mature understanding of the game and confidence with the ball. In 2019, aged just 16, Bellingham became the club’s youngest ever player and goalscorer, breaking a long-standing record from the ’70s. In a team that was predominantly defensive, Bellingham provided a crucial creative outlet in attack, advancing the ball into dangerous areas from deep in midfield as well as on the wing. 

At Dortmund, a club renowned for its model as the ‘springboard’ team for many young stars like Jadon Sancho and Erling Haaland, Bellingham has evolved into one of Europe’s most sought-after players. What sets the English star apart is his exceptional ball-carrying ability and progressive playing style. In possession, Bellingham always looks for penetrating passes or takes on defenders to create space. Closer to goal, Bellingham’s quick one-twos and direct runs have molded him into a versatile goalscorer as well. This season, the midfield prodigy ranks in the top 5% of players receiving dangerous passes close to the box, and completes an average of 3.28 touches per game in the opposition’s penalty area, placing him in the top 3% of midfielders. After scoring a beautiful header against Manchester City in the UCL, Bellingham became the highest-scoring English teenager in the competition’s history, a record previously set by Wayne Rooney in 2005. After the game, City Manager Pep Guardiola hailed the teenager as “exceptional,” citing his ability to follow the likes of Gündoğan and Kevin De Bruyne in the pockets and win difficult duels, as he put on both a defensive and offensive show against the reigning Premier League champions. 

Many experts have likened the wunderkind to Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard, not only as an industrious box-to-box midfielder, but also as a born leader. Gerrard began captaining his boyhood club when he was 23 and led the club to Champions League glory in 2005. For years, Liverpool relied solely on the X factor of Gerrard as he anchored the midfield while also maximizing his involvement with his incredible shooting ability. In a similar vein, Bellingham often finds himself operating in a free role where he fills in wherever his team needs him. His heat map, unlike most players, is scattered across the field, indicative of his multi-positional style. Players like this are unique and although some believe that such a burden on a young player can hinder early tactical development, it is precisely Bellingham’s adaptability that makes him a generational talent. This winter, the Dortmund star will definitely be a part of England’s World Cup squad and is tipped to start in Gareth Southgate’s team.

Every great club has an elite list of players that simply did it all. From the elegant and yet aggressive Zinedine Zidane who anchored the spine of Real Madrid’s famous “galactico” side to Chelsea legend Frank Lampard who redefined the role of the modern attacking midfielder, these players played beyond their positions, much like Jude Bellingham does. Liverpool and Real Madrid are currently reported to be the front-runners for Bellingham’s signature next summer. Wherever Bellingham ends up in La Liga, Serie A or the Premier League, he will excel. Humble to the core and a born competitor, this teenager from England’s West Midlands has the world at his feet, and he’s only just getting started.