As England sunk Croatia 1-0 at Wembley in their opening Euro 2020 fixture, one young man came on and made history.
Jude Bellingham is not a household name in England, but aged just 17 years and 349 days he became the youngest Englishman to play at an international tournament and the youngest player of any nationality to appear at the European Championships. He held the last record for just six days, but the former will undoubtedly be hard to beat.
Rarely does such a young player appear at a major tournament, especially with a country like England with such a rich pool of talent to choose from.
Remarkably, as the tournament has progressed, he hasn’t even been the biggest story out of the England camp. What is wrong with Harry Kane? Why hasn’t Jadon Sancho been given a chance? When will Jack Grealish be trusted with a start?
All of those questions have removed the focus from a teenager who could be one of England’s key players for many years to come.
Bellingham spent his youth career with Birmingham City and has always been the subject of speculation. In 2019 he was named as the 49th most exciting teenager in English football, along with the likes of Reece James and Phil Foden.
He spent a single senior season with the Blues, in which he became their youngest ever player, according to the BBC. That earned him a move to Borussia Dortmund, where he joined another exciting English prospect, Jadon Sancho, in the Bundesliga.
The records didn’t stop once he hopped across the channel. He became the youngest goalscorer in DFB Cup history when he scored on his Dortmund debut.
He became the youngest Englishman to start a Champions League match when he appeared against Lazio, breaking the record previously set by Foden.
Gareth Southgate couldn’t ignore his exploits any longer, handing him a senior debut in November 2020 against the Republic of Ireland.
His former manager Pep Clotet raved about his talents after the game, claiming he was the complete midfielder in a talkSPORT interview. Eight months later, he joined up with the Euro 2020 squad.
Many may have been surprised when he came on against Croatia, not because of his relative lack of experience but because he looks anything but 17.
He is a tall, rangy midfielder with a strong physique and a great stride, and that might have excelled his involvement in the England set-up.
In 2006, when a young Theo Walcott went to the World Cup, it was very much about the future experience, and he did look like a boy in a man’s team, unlike Bellingham.
Walcott suffered when Sven Goran Eriksson stepped down, and Steve McClaren demoted him to the Under 21s, but there will be no fear of that with Bellingham.
England have a tough group at the tournament and a route to the final is described as tricky by a Euro 2020 group draw feature by bwin Sports.
That presented Southgate with plenty of opportunities to shield his young midfielder, to perhaps protect him from a senior appearance by claiming the games were challenging. Still, he did no such thing: Jude Bellingham might be young, but he is a senior England player, and he’s here to stay.
Where now for the Stourbridge-born schemer? It seems Germany is an excellent place for young talent to be given game time without the intrusion and condemnation of the British press, so he will almost certainly remain in Dortmund for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps by the time Qatar 2022 comes around, he might be a permanent fixture in an England side boasting Foden, Sancho, James and a host of young talent, and that maybe has more promise than the so-called golden generation of Beckham, Scholes, Gerrard and Lampard.
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