Manchester United are being given weekly reminders of the huge talent that escaped their net in Jude Bellingham.
The prodigiously talented England international, 17, starred for Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League once more last night – and left Manchester furious having had a goal disallowed by VAR.
Bellingham’s Borussia Dortmund were defeated 2-1 by Manchester City after Phil Foden netted a stoppage time winner in the quarter-final clash.
Another classy, composed midfield display from Bellingham again showed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer what United missed out on last summer.
Almost all of England’s elite showed interest in Bellingham at some stage, but in the end it was a straight choice between United and Dortmund.
“It was a lot of annoyance to me and there was a lot of noise at the time when all I wanted to do was play for Birmingham,” said boyhood Bellingham.
“Now I haven’t got the chance to do that anymore, but I would like to think I made the most of it.
“The record Dortmund have got with young players in recent years is unrivalled in European football. Weighing all that up and the people we met there, the stadium and fanbase, it made me fall in love with that club as well.”
United pulled out all the stops to convince Bellingham to make Old Trafford his home. They gave the midfielder and his family a tour of their facilities this time last year and it was even reported that Sir Alex Ferguson had been present in United’s attempts to sway the Bellinghams.
Bellingham rejected a more lucrative offer to join United, instead choosing the guarantee of first team football on offer in Germany.
He’s been trusted to start 25 matches in Dortmund’s midfield this season. He’s made another 12 appearances off the bench for Dortmund, who are fifth in the Bundesliga and off the pace in the Champions League race.
Youth development is front and centre of Dortmund’s philosophy. Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Gio Reyna are three more super talents within their ranks. Bellingham isn’t even the youngest player in their first team squad, with Youssoufa Moukoko – the scorer of three Bundesliga goals this term – only 16.
Tushar Bahl, of BVB Buzz, explained: “I think the fans have fallen in love with him. Both with the way he conducts himself on and off the pitch, and the passion he has for the team. He is showing maturity beyond his years, both with his performances and attitude.
“And when fans return, I think the little things he does on the pitch will get highlighted even more. I see him being a future captain if he stays at Dortmund.
“Some young players can have the wrong attitude, but with Bellingham you can see that he is determined to help the team in whatever way he can. Whether it is making a crunching tackle, pressing high up the pitch, running for the entire 90 minutes or making vertical passes.
“I think he has really good technique on both ends of the pitch. He is on his way to becoming an excellent box to box midfielder.”
Bellingham’s performances in Dortmund’s midfield have catapulted him into the England conversation. Gareth Southgate is blessed with attacking midfielders, but England have a shortage of high-quality number eights.
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He played 20 minutes of England’s win over the Republic of Ireland in November – a game which his Dortmund teammate Sancho scored in – and recently impressed off the bench versus San Marino.
“He’s earned it,” Sancho said of Bellingham’s debut. “At Dortmund he gives 110 percent, his performances are world class. I’m delighted for him.”
Bellingham has often been compared to England and Liverpool great Steven Gerrard due to his ability to drive his teams forward from midfield. It’s something the modest midfielder isn’t entirely comfortable with, but that hasn’t stopped Haaland from nicknaming him ‘the new Stevie G’.
There’s still a way to go before that becomes a reality – but superstardom has always been within the former Birmingham City wonderkid’s grasp.
“The challenge probably came around under-12s or under-13s when we started to realise that he’s a talented boy,” Birmingham’s head of academy Mike Dodds told BirminghamLive. “From 12s under, he was just like any other boy really.
“From then on it was to make sure we gave him everything he needed in terms of his programme and that we gave him the appropriate challenge. We tried to help him with things that he could be better at.
“The challenge was then obviously keeping him at the football club because he had a huge amount of interest from quite a young age.
“We were always fairly confident, particularly within the academy, that he would stay. The challenge was always going to be whether he would get an opportunity in the first team.
“The family and the academy were on the same page in terms of what his programme should look like. The challenge was always going to come when he crossed that bridge from academy to first team. How good was he going to be? Was he going to cope? Could he sustain it? And thankfully for everyone it worked.”
United could, of course, move for Bellingham in the future and it’s highly likely that Premier League teams will continue to covet the midfielder.
But any move from here on will cost well in excess of the initial £25million Birmingham commanded last year.