Why Jude Bellingham, England’s complete midfielder, can be the World Cup 2022 breakout star

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

Jude Bellingham has been given the No22 shirt for the World Cup— and behind that number lies the story of a player who could be England’s breakout star of the tournament.

The midfielder was one of the kids in Birmingham City’s academy fighting over the No10 shirt when youth coach Mike Dodds had an ingenious solution. “We think you can be a 22,” he told a young Bellingham.

Dodds saw Bellingham as a complete midfielder, capable of playing No4, No8 and No10. Four plus eight plus 10 add up to make 22 — and gave Bellingham a number he has made his own.

Bellingham is expected to start Monday’s Group B opener against Iran. Just 19, he has the potential to announce himself on the biggest stage like Paul Gascoigne did at Italia 90.

England arrive in Qatar for the FIFA World Cup 2022

(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)
(PA)
(PA)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

He is set to become the first English teenager selected to start the opening match of a World Cup since Raheem Sterling in 2014. Like Sterling, who is likely to win his 80th cap against Iran, Bellingham plans to stick around for some time.

The Borussia Dortmund star started England’s last two matches, against Italy and Germany in September, and forced his way into the team to play alongside Declan Rice.

The pair will operate as a ‘double pivot’, helping to build attacks while also breaking up opposition attacks. It is a more withdrawn role than Bellingham has for Dortmund, but Rice will give him licence to run with and without the ball to get involved in attacks.

Bellingham managed the balance especially well against Germany in the last match before the World Cup, and replaces Kalvin Phillips, who is not match fit having only just returned to action after two months out with injury problems, while Jordan Henderson’s form has declined at Liverpool.

Bellingham’s rise to this point comes after an incredible journey that began at his boyhood club. In an eyebrow-raising move in 2020, Birmingham retired Bellingham’s No22 shirt after just 44 games for the club when he left to join Dortmund for £25million. The move is looking less silly all the time.

Prince Williams hands Jude Bellingham his No22 shirt (The FA via Getty Images)
Prince Williams hands Jude Bellingham his No22 shirt (The FA via Getty Images)

Bellingham has starred in the Champions League for Dortmund this season and his side face Chelsea in the last-16 next year. Beyond that, he is being targeted by a host of top European clubs, including Chelsea, Real Madrid, Liverpool and both Manchester clubs.

“He is just so mature,” said Jack Grealish earlier this year. “He is built like he is my age at 26.” After Bellingham scored against Manchester City in the Champions League last year, Pep Guardiola said the player “must be lying about his age!”

He will be the next big export from Dortmund, who have profited from selling Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho to each of the Manchester clubs in the past two seasons. The German side will try to keep Bellingham around for longer, but their CEO Joachim Watzke said last week he will be sold next summer if he tells them he wants to leave during talks after the World Cup.

Dortmund, of course, would expect huge money for him. Bellingham’s contract runs until 2025, giving the Bundesliga club enough leverage to demand an estimated £120million. That has not deterred his suitors in the race to sign him. His father, Mark, who was a talented non-League footballer and a sergeant in the West Midlands Police, will be influential in his decision.

Chelsea are long-term admirers and were trying to convince his family that he should sign for them since before his professional debut for Birmingham as a 16-year-old in 2019. New owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake have only increased Chelsea’s ambitions to bring him to the club.

Liverpool were once regarded as frontrunners to sign Bellingham, but the decision of their owners to put the club up for sale further opens the race. Clubs have seen enough in this remarkable teenager, who has 17 caps and 156 club appearances. His endless ascent continues to boost his status.

Bellingham has switched from No26 at Euro 2020 to his favoured No22 in Qatar.

FA president Prince William delivered a speech to the England squad at their St George’s Park training base on Monday night before they flew out to Qatar. Afterwards, Bellingham opened a box containing his shirt, which had been given to him by the Prince of Wales.

Most midfielders clamour for the No6, No8 or No10, but Southgate knew how symbolic the No22 was to Bellingham, England’s complete midfielder.