The 20-year-old’s astounding skill can significantly accelerate England’s development into one of the finest teams in the world.
By the beginning of the European Championship the following summer, England’s road there will have taken nearly eight years under Gareth Southgate in addition to the 18 months since the World Cup.
Southgate’s squad has developed tactically and been more resilient with each qualification round and competition that has passed, giving them the knowledge, skills, and experience they need to eventually prevail on the greatest platform.
Southgate firmly believes their moment is coming.
It has felt at times like a slow burn, England’s development from dogged set-piece specialists at the 2018 World Cup to the confident front-foot side which last night booked their place at Euro 2024 with a 3-1 win over European champions Italy.
However, Southgate now has Jude Bellingham at his disposal, whom he refers to as “a catalyst” and who can significantly speed up England’s development into one of the top international teams.
Bellingham provided goals for Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane in another masterful performance at Wembley, proving to Southgate that he has a player with the ability to lead England to victory next summer.
For all of England’s incremental improvements under Southgate, it is becoming more and more unclear to the manager to what degree he just restructured the squad around the extraordinary 20-year-old.
It has always been clear that winning teams, not single players, take home the trophy, yet the previous two world champions have built up their teams particularly to bring out the most in a unique talent.
To release Kylian Mbappe in 2018, France coach Didier Deschamps deployed an unbalanced system with a holding midfielder at the wingback, whereas Argentina played a team in Lionel Messi’s sphere in Qatar last winter.
Southgate has stated that he is making “as much effort as possible” to play Bellingham’s position for Real Madrid, where he serves as an advanced No 10 with three midfielders in support and a quick front-line of Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo.
Although Bellingham doesn’t have any glaring flaws and is perhaps the most entertaining player England has had since Wayne Rooney’s breakout, playing to his strengths is crucial.
Last night, Kane became the first English player to achieve 60 goals with his penalty, earned by Bellingham, before terminating the game as a contest with a magnificent third. Kane is the best goal scorer in the history of the nation and may one day serve as captain.
To be fair to Kane, however, he has never raised as many eyebrows as Bellingham, and no English player may have ever had the world at his feet to this extent.
Due in part to Kane’s skill at slipping into the No. 10 spot, England cannot play in the same manner, but if the captain were to be hurt for the Euros, it might not be as disastrous as it previously was.
Bellingham wore the No. 22 jersey at Borussia Dortmund because Birmingham’s young coaches long ago realized he was skilled enough to effectively play every position in midfield — as a No. 4, an 8, and a 10 — and Southgate has indicated he loves the versatility he provides the club.
The highlight of last night’s game was Bellingham’s magnificent assist for Rashford to make it 2-1. English football’s rising star won the ball back on the edge of his box with a stout tackle before flicking the ball over the head of a defender and sprinting into an unexpectedly wide-open space ahead.