There could hardly have been a better place to watch Jude Bellingham’s rise to World Cup stardom than the canteen at Birmingham City’s training ground.
At the club where England’s new midfield sensation began his career – and with some players who helped shape him.
Me and the rest of the Blues players had just finished our first day at work after a nine day break when England started their campaign against Iran on Monday.
Despite being a lifelong bluenose I only joined the club after Jude left but it was a lesson listening to the guys who knew him well and talked about his development.
I watched the game with veteran pros like Harlee Dean and Lukas Jutkiewicz, who played alongside the young Jude during his only full season as a first-team player at St Andrew’s.
And when Bellingham brought that header home to open the scoring and then produced a phenomenal all-around performance, none of the players who knew Jude well were surprised.
Not only did they think Bellingham was going to be great, they just KNEW he was going to be great.
This was a kid who used to train with the first team alongside school classes.
By the time he was 15, he was making hardened pros look stupid with his talent in training.
He routinely took their p*** in a way few kids would get away with — then casually said, “Right, back to school. . . Next I have science.
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But there was something about the young Jew’s character that meant these senior pros didn’t take it amiss that he was the best player in training before he’d even made his first-team debut.
There was a humility, an intelligence, a respect and a thirst for knowledge that set him apart.
We’ve all seen very talented kids, but talent isn’t enough. Even at 15 or 16, this boy had incredible maturity.
When Jude won a thunderous tackle en route to England’s sixth goal – finished by another brummie, Jack Grealish – there was some comment in the blues canteen about it.
Jude would always win that 50-50 challenge because he played on a struggling team in a relegation battle.
And some of those players around me had told him in no uncertain terms that you will win every tackle or you will not be in the team next week – and that this club could have been relegated to League One.
Guys like Harlee and Lukas helped make Jude the player he is.
He obviously has more natural talent than any of us.
But without that remarkable will to win instilled in him at Birmingham, he would not have made his way into England’s starting XI like he did.
One of the few blues players not to watch the Iran game at the training ground was Jude’s younger brother Jobe, who went straight home after practice to watch with his family.
Jobe has been a substitute in most of our games this season and recently made his debut against Sunderland.
He has a similar build to his brother – he just turned 17 and he’s 6ft 3″ tall and is still developing physically.
Jobe is very proud of Jude, but he has his own journey ahead of him.
For me as his captain and the rest of the team, we make every effort not to mention Jude too much. Jobe has to be his own man and I think he’s going to be a very good player.
On Monday I was in the canteen while some of my teammates watched at the gym and their TV screen was a few seconds ahead of ours – so they all blew up before we actually saw Jude’s header.
At the moment, however, it felt like Jude’s shackles as an England player had fallen off.
It was his first goal for his country and the first goal of the English season in Qatar.
He just seemed to say, “Right, I’ve arrived,” and grabbed the deer by the scruff of the neck.
One of my teammates said Jude’s goal reminded him of Michael Owen’s goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup – one of those “wow” moments when a young player speaks up.
Jude will be England’s most important man for a decade or more… He’s in Kylian Mbappe’s group – as good as that.
I disagreed. I think it will be even more meaningful. Owen was a wonderful player growing up, a Ballon d’Or winner no less, but once he started suffering hamstring injuries he was never quite the same player.
Jude will be England’s most important man for a decade or more.
Because he plays for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, there is an element of Jude under the radar for many English fans.
But this season he has developed into a proper midfielder, scoring nine goals for Dortmund.
When Jude leaves Dortmund, possibly next summer, most of the biggest clubs in the world will be interested and for me the bid can start at £150m.
He’s in the Kylian Mbappe bracket – as good as that.
You may recall that in 2020 Jude left Birmingham for Dortmund and the club retired his number 22 shirt.
A lot of people scoffed at that and I thought, ‘Wait a minute, that’s a bit much’.
But then again, I wasn’t in the club when Jude showed up.
Those who were there knew how special he would be.
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/6762475/jude-bellingham-troy-deeney-england-world-cup/ Jude Bellingham spanked hard-nosed professionals at 15, then casually said, “Back to school…I have science next.”