Borussia Dortmund know a talented Englishman when they see one. Indeed, the Bundesliga club is home to two of the country’s brightest young prospects with Jude Bellingham, 17, and Jadon Sancho, 21, both full internationals. They are expected to be national team superstars for the next decade or longer.
Sancho is the more eye-catching of the two. The Manchester City academy graduate has notched an incredible 46 goals and 60 assists in 130 appearances for Dortmund, making him a €100m player in the eyes of the German club who refused to sell him to Manchester United for anything less last summer. Bellingham, on the other hand, has only been a first team figure in the Bundesliga since last summer, when he joined Dortmund from Birmingham City.
However, when it comes to the international careers ahead of both players it’s Bellingham who will surely shine brighter for England. While Gareth Southgate has a number of elite level wide forwards - Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish, Mason Greenwood etc, including Sancho - to choose from, he doesn’t have anyone else quite like Bellingham.
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The focus on Sancho has kept Bellingham somewhat out of the spotlight for English football fans. There is recognition of the teenager’s potential, but few have truly grasped the heights the 17-year-old has reached in his first season at the Westfalenstadion. He is already the complete central midfielder.
Bellingham played only 54 minutes of Dortmund’s 2-1 home defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt, but in that time the young Englishman was among the most influential on the pitch. The 17-year-old was everywhere, carrying the ball wherever he could find space whether that be through the middle or into one of the wide channels.
Edin Terzic sacrificed Bellingham to give his side some control in the centre of the pitch, with the match an incredibly open affair until that point, but this highlighted the vulnerability of the players around the teenager rather than anything wrong in his own game. Borussia Dortmund needed structure, but the decision backfired as Frankfurt claimed three points.
Without Bellingham on the pitch, Dortmund lacked ideas. At one point inside the final 10 minutes, Emre Can held his hands out in exasperation on the ball due to the lack of options in front of him. Southgate risks making the same mistake by playing two number sixes at this summer’s Euros.
Of course, England have a number of high quality central midfielders. Declan Rice continues to grow and develop, but the West Ham man is more of a protective barrier than Bellingham. The same could be said of Kalvin Phillips who started in Wednesday’s World Cup qualifying win over Poland.
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England also have exceptional attack-minded central midfielders like Phil Foden and Mason Mount, but neither cover the ground that Bellingham does. Jordan Henderson is the closest thing Southgate has to Bellingham. He too is a complete midfielder and a natural leader. The Liverpool captain will be a key figure for England this summer if he can regain fitness in time.
Henderson, however, can’t dribble or sprint like Bellingham can. He can’t brush past two opponents into space before picking a pass in behind. What’s more, at 30 years old Southgate must start devising a succession plan for a player who already seems to be increasingly troubled with injury as he ages.
Bellingham won’t even be 18 until June. By that time, he will have played a full season in the Bundesliga. He’ll have played in the Champions League and may well have been picked for England’s Euro 2020 squad. Sancho has achieved plenty himself and is a superstar in his own right, but it’s his Dortmund teammate who might shine brightest for his country.
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