|ARE YOU LISTENING, WORLD? Jude Bellingham's World Cup dream debut has been a meteoric rise for the young midfielder. — AFP/VNA Photo|
HÀ NỘI — Before the World Cup started, not many people thought that Jude Bellingham would even make Gareth Southgate's starting line-up.
The 19-year-old teenager from Stourbridge in the West Midlands, is the only player in the squad not currently playing in the Premier League, and although his team, Borussia Dortmund are top notch, they are not quite continentally proven, when compared to the likes of Champions League regulars Manchester City, Chelsea, or Liverpool.
Being the youngest player in the squad may also have hampered Jude's chances even more.
When England got relegated from the Nations League before the World Cup, many thought that the chances of a decent World Cup were few and far between.
In Southgate's reign as manager, England had one of the toughest defences around, a dangerous attack spearheaded by the goalscoring machine Harry Kane. The Three Lions, however, lacked a creative midfielder.
Southgate's Euro starters, Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice are somewhat defensive-minded: they can only control possession and pass the ball around, but had difficulties in disrupting the opponent's play. Mason Mount is a player that seemed to be more dangerous inside the box, but his form for England was never impressive.
And the England manager surprised everyone by starting young Bellingham in the first match against Iran. Playing as one of the two deeper midfielders in the 4-2-3-1 formation, he stunned the world again by suddenly appearing in the box, scoring England's first goal in Qatar.
"He looks like he can do absolutely everything," said Gary Neville, a former player turned pundit. "Is he a holding player? Is he an attacking midfielder? He's everything in one."
But for any keen supporter of Dortmund and the Bundesliga, it should not come as a surprise. In the 2021/2022 season, Bellingham won the most challenges in midfield (245/428), had a pass completion of 84 per cent, had the most shots on goal (30) for his team, played all 90 minutes of his games this season, and is the sixth best player in Germany for distance covered, at 10.9 kilometres per match.
Since his inclusion in the Iran match, Bellingham has started every single game for England this tournament. In his first World Cup knockout game, his pairing with Liverpool's Jordan Henderson was crucial in setting up England's preferred fast breaks and counterattacks.
England did not have to settle for wing plays, nor rely on Kane having a great day, but was truly unpredictable in their approach, by the virtue of having an unpredictable midfielder in Bellingham.
"He is a one-off and we have just got to let him keep enjoying his football," said Henderson after the match against Senegal.
The key to England playing well is just that - no ridiculous systems, no complicated plays - just letting Bellingham carry the world upon his shoulders, and play his own brand of football.
In the quarter-finals, another teenage star that has his own style of play, a superstar that also expected to carry his team, awaits.
In the clash between Kylian Mbappé and Jude Bellingham, only one can come out on top.
But for Bellingham, this tournament has been a fine ride, and the world must now look at him in a different light. — VNS