Scouted: Jude Bellingham
Jude Bellingham has had a big breakthrough season at Birmingham City. Danny Lewis breaks down the 16-year-old as a big move beckons.
Before the 2019/20 campaign, you would have been hard-pressed to find many people who had heard about Jude Bellingham. The teenager was yet to make a single first-team appearance for Birmingham City. But that has completely changed this season.
The 16-year-old has now managed a total of 35 appearances for his boyhood club, 25 of which have been starts in the Championship. What is most impressive is that during this fairly limited amount of time, he has made it abundantly clear that he has the quality to play well above Championship level.
So much so, he has already been linked with Manchester United, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, Chelsea, Bayern München and Real Madrid at some point. A youngster – especially one playing in the Championship – does not get linked with such clubs without displaying real talent. Bellingham has certainly done that since becoming Birmingham CIty’s youngest-ever player, making his debut at 16 years and 38 days old.
One interesting feature of Bellingham’s time under Pep Clotet so far is the youngster's versatility. To date, the England youth international has predominantly played on the left-wing or in centre-midfield in a 4-4-2 shape. However, he has also featured from the right and as part of the front two, in addition to playing as a holding midfielder and behind the main striker in a 4-2-3-1 shape.
Another thing that will be encouraging for any prospective buyers is the teenager’s seamless transition into the first-team. Bellingham immediately showed that he was capable of making the step up to Championship football, as was shown during his first league start, against Charlton Athletic. Having already scored the winner against Stoke City in his second substitute appearance, he then scored the only goal of Birmingham’s meeting with the Addicks. The teenager drifted into the box unmarked, before stroking the ball past Dillon Phillips with a first-time finish.
This goal displayed two key components of Bellingham’s game. The first of those is that he can be clinical when inside the opposition box. So far, he has four goals to his name, with his deflected effort against Stoke being the only one that was scored from outside the box. The teenager could, perhaps, benefit from getting more shots off, although he still registers a more than adequate average of 1.6 shots per 90 minutes for a 16-year-old largely operating from midfield in a team that only takes 12.8 shots per game.
The second is that when he is playing on the wings, he is not the type of player that will stick to the touchline the whole game. He can often be found drifting inside to join in with the play. This worked well for his goal in the 5-4 loss against Leeds United. His run inside gave Maxime Colin plenty of space down the right, while the teenager got himself into the box to score a well-worked goal.
When being deployed out wide, it is important that Bellingham is playing with someone who is able to exploit the space he vacates. That is because there are times when his runs into central areas mean there is no out ball into the wings. Considering the strongest links at the moment are with Borussia Dortmund, this could definitely work in his favour, due to their current use of marauding wing-backs. It should also be noted that Bellingham can provide quality when he does stay out wide.
When he gets the ball at his feet, Bellingham is capable of making an impact. In the current Championship campaign, the teenager has averaged 1.5 completed dribbles and 0.9 shot assists, while being fouled 1.7 times per 90. This offers an indication that he poses a threat, both when carrying the ball and playing it to team-mates.
However, he will likely need to learn to keep hold of the ball better if he is to make the step up to top level football, as he has a pass completion rate of 75% and is dispossessed 1.9 times per 90. For context, he would place joint-24th at Dortmund for the percentage of passes that are successful. That said, it must be stressed that his numbers would almost certainly improve at Dortmund, a proactive team with an average ball possession of 58% in the Bundesliga this season compared to Birmingham, who have been in possession for only 47% of their matches in the Championship. Bellingham's numbers are largely a consequence of context.
One thing that is not likely to be seen is Bellingham being bullied. Standing at 5’11, he is tall enough to have a commanding presence, and there is already a mental toughness that can be seen in his play, especially when he is defending. During Birmingham’s 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday, the teenager was deployed as part of Clotet’s central midfield double-pivot, alongside Ivan Šunjić. He definitely showed an ability to compete, making five tackles with which he impacted the ball – the joint-highest in the game, alongside his partner, Šunjić – four clearances, and one interception.
His defensive contributions show a willingness to work hard. Importantly, there is also intelligence being displayed by the England youth international. Against Wednesday, he read Adam Reach’s pass to Barry Bannan and defended on the front foot, nipping in to get the ball ahead of the Scotsman. After retrieving it he drove forward, before laying the ball off to Daniel Crowley, starting a move that resulted in Álvaro Giménez scoring the game’s opening goal.
Across the current league campaign, Bellingham has recorded 3.2 tackles and 0.9 interceptions per 90, while committing 1.4 fouls. This offers further indication of his proactive defending style, as he looks to hunt out opportunities to win the ball back before launching an attacking opportunity himself, with another example being his assist against Barnsley.
Bellingham is not yet the finished article, but, at 16 years old, that is cause for excitement rather than criticism. During his breakthrough campaign, Bellingham has shown himself to be a talented prospect with the potential to play at a far higher level than his current one.
There is a sense of inevitability that the teenager will be leaving St. Andrew’s in the near future. It is now imperative that he picks the right club to move to for his development. Whoever he does join will have some decisions to make, regarding what is the best position to play him in, as well as how to optimise his well-rounded skillset.
Stardom is not guaranteed for any youngster, as we have seen plenty of times in the past. However, if Bellingham does manage to fulfil his potential, we could be looking at a supremely talented player who goes on to become a key component of the English national team.
Scouted Football Handbook: Volume VI is here. Buy your copy now, while stocks last.