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Bellingham – the England hero who ‘writes his own scripts’

Highlights: England 1-0 Serbia

Emlyn Begley
BBC Sport journalist

3 hours ago

Jude Bellingham’s remarkable rise continued as he netted England’s winner in their Euro 2024 opener against Serbia – with boss Gareth Southgate declaring him a player who “writes his own scripts”.

The 20-year-old from Stourbridge near Birmingham, who plays for Real Madrid, is the first European player to make an appearance at three major international tournaments before turning 21.

He has scored at two of the tournaments, too, having found the net against Iran at the 2022 World Cup.

His 13th-minute header in Gelsenkirchen on Sunday ended up being the only goal of the game.

“I am willing to do whatever it takes and am ready to do everything to help the country win this football tournament,” said Bellingham afterwards.

BBC pundit Micah Richards, a former England international, said: “He’s taken the game by the scruff of the neck and this is what you need.

“His composure is remarkable. He’s the leader in this team at such a young age and he knows it. He’s got a great attitude, he’s got everything. I’m running out of superlatives for him. He manages the game really well.

“If he can keep that form throughout the tournament then he is the man we can rely on.”

It was little wonder Bellingham was voted man of the match by visitors to the BBC Sport website.

‘Bellingham writes his own scripts’ – Southgate’s reaction to England’s win over Serbia

After a season when he won the Spanish title and Champions League with his club side, Bellingham is the second favourite to win this year’s Ballon d’Or award – the prize that goes to the player voted the world’s best.

If England win Euro 2024, he could well carry off that award.

“He’s come out today with the attitude knowing it’s his game,” said former England centre-back Rio Ferdinand on BBC One.

“He’s said ‘guys, this is my game and I am him’. That’s the vibe he’s given me with how he’s gesturing. You have to enjoy your great players.”

Bellingham left the pitch to a standing ovation from the travelling England fans late on.

“Jude Bellingham is made up of amazing people,” Bellingham said. “It’s not just me. It’s because I have such a great support network – my family, my friends, my team-mates. Playing football is the easiest part.

“I have got used to getting into the box, getting wide and trying to do that. I got into that habit at Madrid and I wanted to carry my form into the Euros. It’s a great start for me personally to get my confidence up, and to help the lads get the win is the most important thing.”

‘It’s all right’ being Jude Bellingham right now

The beginning in Stourbridge

Bellingham started playing football at around the age of four years old – but was “not really interested” initially, according to his first coach.

Phil Wooldridge told the BBC in 2022 that “it wasn’t just overnight, it was a matter of a few months” for Bellingham to get into the game.

Bellingham went on to join a children’s team set up by his dad Mark, a former non-league footballer, and Wooldridge – Stourbridge Juniors.

“The only part I had in his development of football was just basically getting him to try and enjoy it,” said Wooldridge.

At the age of only seven, Bellingham joined the academy of Birmingham City.

‘He has everything’ – BBC pundits analyse Bellingham’s performance against Serbia

Birmingham retire his number

Jude Bellingham scored the winner on his first home game for Birmingham City, a 2-1 victory over Stoke on 31 August 2019

Bellingham would spend a decade with his boyhood club Birmingham – with one season in the first team.

Their academy coaches wanted his game to have parts of a defensive midfielder (traditionally a number four), a box-to-box player (number eight) and a creative player (number 10). Those numbers add up to 22, which was to become his Birmingham shirt number.

Mike Dodds was one of Bellingham’s coaches in the Blues academy and said: “He was my best coach educator, because if he wasn’t happy with a session, if he wasn’t happy with the kind of route that his development was going, he would be the first person to let me know his thoughts.”

Dodds, who finished last season as Sunderland’s caretaker manager, added: “He’s just a magnificent human being.”

Former Birmingham left-back Paul Robinson also coached Bellingham at St Andrew’s and told BBC Sport how he watched Bellingham in his mid-teens “being able to get on the ball and dictate games with his quality of passing”.

“I’ve never seen someone so young be so intelligent in terms of understanding the game,” Robinson said.

Bellingham became the youngest senior Birmingham City player ever at the age of 16 years and 38 days.

He made 41 appearances in the Championship and scored four goals.

But Birmingham knew he was destined for much greater things and after one season in the first team, he was sold to Borussia Dortmund for £25m in the summer of 2020.

His impact was so great that Birmingham retired the number 22 shirt, the kind of gesture usually saved for the biggest legends of clubs. That move was hugely ridiculed at the time, but it soon began to make some sense.

Dortmund impact catches him by surprise

Jude Bellingham became the youngest Bundesliga captain on record in 2022

Bellingham moved to Germany at the age of 17 after just one campaign of second-tier football in England.

But he instantly impressed at a club famous for developing young talent.

“He was very confident,” former Dortmund goalkeeper Roman Burki said. “You could see from the first training he was not shy of going into duels and showing his qualities and his mentality.

“He gained experience really fast because he played almost every game. I think he improved in his decision-making and also in his personality a little bit.”

Bellingham started off playing with a similar defensive midfield duty to the one he had at Birmingham but eventually started playing more of a box-to-box role.

His three years in Germany yielded 24 goals in 132 games – with 14 of those goals coming in his final season.

He even admitted before a Champions League match against Manchester City, in which he scored: “I think all of it has been a bit of a surprise. I didn’t think I’d have the impact quite like I have.”

Bellingham’s influence on Dortmund can be demonstrated in two other ways too – he became their youngest ever captain in a game in October 2022, at the age of 19, and they lost the title without him.

They just needed to beat Mainz on the final day of the 2022-23 campaign to win their first title in 11 years, but Bellingham, who was named the Bundesliga’s player of the season, missed out with a knee injury and they drew 2-2.

He was pictured in tears as he left the pitch for the final time as a Dortmund player – because he had another big move to come.

The best in the world at Real Madrid?

‘Love at first sight’ – How Real Madrid fell for Bellingham

Bellingham joined arguably the biggest club in the world, Real Madrid, last summer, for a huge fee of £88.5m – and yet that has looked like a bargain.

Expectations were obviously high for a player with huge promise and a big price tag – but he exceeded all of them with a goal-laden trophy-winning campaign.

Playing in a more advanced role for Real – as a number 10 or centre forward – he ended the season as their top scorer – and top assister.

Bellingham scored 23 times and created 11 goals for team-mates in 39 games for the club.

Some of them were huge goals too. Remarkably he scored a last-minute winner in El Clasico, against their arch-rivals Barcelona… twice.

He netted twice, including a stoppage-time winner, in Real’s 2-1 win at Barcelona in October, and then struck in the final minute at the Bernabeu in April.

In January, Real boss Carlo Ancelotti said Bellingham was “obviously the best” player in the world “bearing in mind that he’s had to adapt to our club, to a new culture and language”.

He was named La Liga’s player of the season and won the 2024 Laureus World Sports Breakthrough of the Year for any sport.

Real Madrid cruised to the La Liga title, by 10 points, and won the Champions League final – against Dortmund of all teams – at Wembley.

“When he left us, I said the same thing I said to [Manchester City striker] Erling Haaland – I was proud to be their manager,” said Dortmund boss Edin Terzic – who recently left his post – after that game.

“It’s his first Champions League win and it’s a proud moment for him.”

What odds there will be more to come?

Bellingham – the England star

Jude Bellingham was the outstanding performer during England’s opening win at Euro 2024

After all that club success, it has become apparent that Bellingham, at the age of 20, is already one of England’s key players. Perhaps the key player for his country.

“I have never seen anyone so mature for his age,” Three Lions team-mate Phil Foden told the Daily Mail in April.

“I feel he’s got a gift from God with his physique.”

Bellingham has already played at the delayed Euro 2020, where England lost the final to Wembley on penalties, the 2022 World Cup and now Euro 2024.

Two of his four goals in 30 caps have been at major tournaments.

He is the second player to score at the World Cup and Euros before turning 21, after Michael Owen – who incidentally is the last English player to win the Ballon d’Or.

Former Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas, watching the win over Serbia for the BBC, said: “The determination, the belief that he gives the team…

“When you have players like this and you are crossing the ball, you know he’s going to be there. He is your guy.”

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