Jude Bellingham will make England’s No 8 shirt his personal property one day: He is thriving at international level at just 17 and is ALREADY earmarked as a future Three Lions leader figure
You learn nothing from international friendlies, so they say. During exercises in which substitutions are frequent and intensity is lacking, these contests can often be dismissed as meaningless.
If England’s penultimate fixture before Euro 2020 was not played at a pulse quickening tempo, there was one piece of information – leaping from the teamsheet – that alone made the evening in Middlesbrough worthwhile: Jude Bellingham, No8.
Here was a pointer to the future, a nod from Gareth Southgate to the potential importance of a young man who you must keep reminding yourself is only 17; he is a boy in a man’s game, prowling around with the sense of a seasoned pro.
Jude Bellingham wore the No 8 shirt on his first England start against Austria on Wednesday
Frank Lampard and Paul Scholes are among previous wearers of the shirt for England
Take a look back through the decades at the men who have been handed this jersey at major tournaments: Jimmy Greaves wore it in the squad of the 1966 immortals; the late, great Ray Wilkins was handed it in Mexico in 1986, Chris Waddle took possession in Italy four years later.
Paul Gascoigne, with his mercurial genius, scored one of Wembley’s great goals with that number on his back at Euro 1996; Paul Scholes (2004) and Frank Lampard (2006) were other luminaries to play in it: put simply, this shirt is not dispensed without thought.
Wednesday in Middlesbrough had already been big for Bellingham before he even arrived at the Riverside Stadium, after it was revealed he had been named Newcomer of the Season by the German Professional Footballers Union.
What a 12 months it has been, with his list of highlights including his first two substitute appearances for England – against the Republic of Ireland and San Marino – not to mention the first medal of his career in the German Cup. Now, against Austria, came his first England start.
Ray Wilkins and Chris Waddle were similarly great No 8s who Bellingham will hope to follow
It is our loss we do not get to watch this talent blossoming every week but whenever you do see Bellingham in the Bundesliga or Champions League, it is clear the environment which Borussia Dortmund have provided for him is absolutely perfect at this stage of his career.
He is thriving so much that Southgate, during his media duties on Tuesday, pointed to the maturity and understanding Bellingham continues to show, so much so that the head coach earmarked him as a future member of England’s leadership group.
‘I’m looking at Jude this morning,’ said Southgate. ‘Declan Rice, Mason Mount – they are future captains for whatever teams they play in.’
Bellingham celebrates with Bukayo Saka during England’s narrow win at the Riverside
The 17-year-old has shown his blossoming qualities with Borussia Dortmund this season
That includes England. There was nothing flash or fancy about Bellingham’s performance here but what made such an impression was his poise and intelligence of it. He was elegantly disciplined, staying back when he needed to, scurrying forward when the opportunity allowed.
It was Bellingham whose toe poke, in the 55th minute, pilfered the ball away from Marco Friedl and set the wheels in motion on the move that led to Bukayo Saka scoring the only goal. It was understated but critical, words that articulated his performance in general. He left the pitch in raptures, smiling broadly and waving to his family in the crowd.
When the real business begins in 10 days, Bellingham will revert to number 26 (Jordan Henderson takes over at 8) but there will come a point when he assumes the mantle and makes the jersey his own. As a pointer to the future, these 90 minutes in Middlesbrough were an uplifting start.
Gareth Southgate trusts Bellingham and sees him as a future England leadership figure