REVEALED: Dossier that predicted 16-year-old Jude Bellingham was on the path to greatness… and how Borussia Dortmund, Gareth Southgate and father Mark managed his potential
- Jude Bellingham dazzled again as England beat Italy 3-1 at Wembley on Tuesday
- A dossier from 2019 reveals how top Premier League scouts knew his potential
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off’
‘Only 16 – but awe inspiring. He is around 6ft 1in, very athletic, long legs and huge feet,’ read a Premier League scouting report of Portsmouth’s 3-0 EFL Cup victory over Birmingham City on August 6, 2019. Sound familiar?
The dossier continues: ‘He is still developing physically but has the frame to be a huge presence and graceful runner. Moves naturally.
‘Long strides. Has a fantastic mentality, is intelligent in finding space to receive possession. Gets between the lines and pulls wide.
‘Made plenty of runs, rarely gave the ball away. When he did, he quickly sprinted back.
‘Never panicked on the ball, took it away from pressure and could use his body.
A dossier written in 2019 of 16-year-old Jude Bellingham shows he was on a path to greatness
The England star has scored 10 goals in 10 matches since joining Real Madrid this summer
He put in a masterful performance to help England beat Italy 3-1 at Wembley on Tuesday night
‘Threw himself into a few challenges and got a yellow card for a heavy tackle.
‘Huge potential, only 16 and already able to go toe to toe with Portsmouth’s first team. Sign, develop, send on loan.
‘In 18 months he will play in our team.’
Answer: Jude Bellingham – world football’s new superstar. And he’s English.
Ten goals in 10 games since joining Real Madrid for a fee that will rise above £100million in the summer.
And now THAT performance against Italy on Tuesday night as England sealed Euro 2024 qualification. Only 20 but already world class.
Fast-forward four years and the above extract analysing his performance at Fratton Park on his senior debut reads so accurately.
Jude Bellingham’s first scout report during Portsmouth’s win over Birmingham in 2019
That said, it was impossible not to recognise the talent.
Another club told Mail Sport they’d compiled more than 60 Bellingham recruitment files.
‘Good vision, good monitor,’ read the analysis of Bellingham’s performance when he played against Luton at St Andrews on October 26, 2019.
‘Great physique already, lean, long legs, will grow to have broad shoulders, comfortable handling it,’ read another of Birmingham’s visit to Charlton on September 14, 2019 – Bellingham’s full Championship debut, in which he scored.
‘The best player in the Championship,’ was the simple assertion in the document from Birmingham’s 3-2 win at Reading on December 7, 2019.
Indeed, it is a little-known fact that Arsenal were within a whisker of luring Bellingham away from Birmingham’s academy as an Under-14.
At the time the deal would have cost the Gunners around £500,000 in compensation – a sum they were willing to pay.
However, an unforeseen delay – which totalled no more than 48 hours – in Arsenal signing off on the fee resulted in Bellingham signing terms with Birmingham.
Arsenal remained interested in signing Bellingham as a senior footballer as his reputation sky-rocketed in the Championship.
‘The problem wasn’t seeing the talent with Jude. The problem was signing him, we were all told he was going to Manchester United,’ said a sporting director.
United’s pitch to Bellingham and his fiercely protective father Mark was one of a fast-track route into senior football.
But it was also one that centred around United’s iconic No 7 shirt. Legendary United No 7s Eric Cantona and Bryan Robson were there waiting for Bellingham, as he, his father and mother Denise arrived in Manchester. Sir Alex Ferguson attended for good measure.
The dossier was made during Birmingham’s League Cup clash with Portsmouth back in 2019
Bellingham decided against a Premier League move and instead joined Borussia Dortmund
The midfielder flourished in the Bundesliga, sheltered from the bright lights of publicity
United were sure the deal was done – the lure of the Theatre of Dreams and the No 7 jersey had worked its magic.
Bellingham’s father, however, had other ideas. A pathway to regular senior football was critical to Bellingham Snr’s grand plan.
Bruno Fernandes had signed for United in January 2020, while news of United’s interest in Donny van de Beek and Jack Grealish had also emerged.
Enter Borussia Dortmund. Bellingham had seen the impact Jadon Sancho had at Signal Iduna Park and liked what he saw.
What’s more, Dortmund were prepared to offer a virtual guarantee of first-team football to Bellingham.
Father Mark was impressed by the Bundesliga outfit, not just with their plans for Bellingham on the pitch – but primarily how they intended to protect him off it.
Bellingham was becoming a household name in England, but nobody really knew who he was in Germany. That was an attractive proposition for Bellingham’s family amid a strategy to shelter him from the bright lights of publicity.
When Bellingham eventually joined Real Madrid earlier this year, Mark made his son’s mental welfare a priority; feeling staying away from the English glare would better suit his son’s career prospects.
Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City were among those left disappointed.
What Bellingham’s dad would describe as a natural urge to protect his son, could well be construed as ‘being difficult’ by others.
Gareth Southgate knew Bellingham would play a key role in England’s future when he was just a 17-year-old – and picked him in November 2020 because of his injury crisis in midfield
Bellingham hasn’t looked back, and now he’s deemed one of the best players in world football
One source even indicated to Mail Sport that on one occasion Bellingham Snr called Gareth Southgate to discuss his son’s progress, leading to obvious surprise at St George’s Park.
‘People might tell you he is difficult, but he has done a great job managing Jude and Jobe (Bellingham’s brother),’ said an insider.
‘He never wants to talk about Jude alongside Jobe; they always have to be different conversations and that is of great credit to Mark.
‘He is doing right by his children. There is nothing wrong with that.’
The Bellinghams are a tight-knit family. It’s part of the reason why many believe Jude will go on to be English football’s greatest ever player.
He’s grounded, mature and intelligent – add that to the talent and you’ve got a winning formula.
His character has been moulded by his father – a former West Midlands Police officer – and mother Denise, who have both been described as hard-working and devoted parents.
Bellingham grew up around football. Bellingham Snr was himself a prolific forward on the non-league circuit scoring over 700 goals.
Jude and Jobe were encouraged to participate in as many sports as possible – but football was always king in the Bellingham residence.
Bellingham’s parents Denise and Mark, pictured left and right while watching him play at the Qatar World Cup, were instrumental in his decision to join Borussia Dortmund back in 2020
Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City were all interested in signing Bellingham during his teenage years with Birmingham City in the Championship
Mark is now a licensed FIFA agent after passing the governing body’s required exams and has taken on the responsibility of formally guiding his son’s careers.
Bellingham’s career has been managed expertly so far. Of course, the majority of that is down to the Stourbridge-born player’s footballing ability.
But his temperament, his drive and calmness – that all stems from his upbringing. You can’t put a price on that.
We forget he’s 20.
In November 2020, Southgate, his assistant Steve Holland and technical director John McDermott sat to discuss their options ahead of a trio of games versus Belgium, Republic of Ireland and Iceland.
By then, it was a matter of when, not if, Bellingham was going to be selected. But at the time Southgate wanted to put a process in place that ensured he wasn’t selected too early.
Bellingham – 17 at the time – was already playing regularly in Germany and there was an emerging view that he would benefit from a rest.
There was also a conversation about how they could harness his swashbuckling style into England’s system.
For that reason, Southgate originally decided to leave Bellingham out of the squad.
But injuries to James Ward-Prowse and Trent Alexander-Arnold meant Southgate could resist no longer.
Bellingham hasn’t looked back. He was selected for England’s European Championship squad in 2021 before firing himself to global prominence at last year’s World Cup.
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England’s assistant boss Steve Holland played a key role in guiding Bellingham into the first team – educating the youngster in terms of what his exact responsibilities were in midfield
The sky’s the limit for Bellingham following his £113m move to the LaLiga giants this summer
Behind the scenes, Holland is credited with guiding Bellingham’s transition towards becoming an England regular; educating the midfielder as to what his exact role is and – pertinently – what his defensive responsibilities are.
Yet it was clear from the outset for Southgate and Holland that eventually, the England team would be built around Bellingham. We’ve arrived at that juncture.
So what can stop him? Only himself it seems.
His profile is soaring. Already the face of Gucci, it’ll be interesting to witness exactly how he copes with the trappings and glare of superstardom.
The signs are promising. Speak to anyone who has ever encountered Bellingham and they’ll speak of a level-headed young man who consistently shows maturity beyond his years.
‘Even when he was at Birmingham and when he started training with us – it was like he was 30 years old,’ said his England midfield partner Declan Rice.
You’d imagine his strict father wouldn’t accept any stepping out of line.
Equally, Real Madrid and the FA are working to limit his exposure – though as his seniority and profile grows, that will become a harder task.
His demanding nature is known to have upset some of his former team-mates at Dortmund, who had complained of Bellingham being too forthright in his opinions for someone so young.
Mail Sport understands Southgate was made aware of those concerns emanating from Germany prior to the World Cup and is understood to have delicately approached the issue with Bellingham.
‘I don’t think it was ever in a nasty way, it’s just an incredible confidence to have,’ said a source.
The product of a tight-knit family, Jude (centre, left) has grown into a grounded, mature and intelligent young man – and this has only helped his development as a footballer on the pitch
The youngster always manages to show composure with the media despite his rise to stardom
There’s always a fine line between arrogance and confidence, of course, and some at Dortmund believed he’d overstepped the mark.
But by the same token it is clear those working with him at international level do not concur with that view.
‘He’s one of the jokers of the team. He’s hilarious. He’s a top lad,’ said Rice.
‘Honestly I can’t speak highly enough of him. The type of person I like to be around, we’re on the same page.
‘One thing I would say about him is that he gets on with everyone.
‘The lads love him, such a bright bubbly character who wears his heart on his sleeve. When things don’t go right, he says it.
‘That is the biggest compliment – he is young but says how it is to better himself and better everyone.’
Moving forward, Real Madrid and England must keep a close eye on the amount of football he plays.
He’s already made over 200 appearances for club and country. That’s a lot – probably too much football for a 20-year-old.
Bellingham’s a generational talent, and he should be treated as such.
Jude’s younger brother Jobe (right) is also showing plenty of promise with England’s U19 side
An FA insider predicted that Jobe could be ‘as good as if not better than Jude’ in years to come
PS – Keep your eye out for Bellingham’s brother Jobe.
‘Honestly, he could be as good as if not better than Jude. He is going to be a really good player,’ said an FA insider.
‘It’s uncanny how he is developing into the same physical shape as Jude. I think Jobe can be better,’ said a member of a Premier League club’s recruitment team. ‘He can go the whole way.’
Two Bellinghams are always better than one.
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