DOHA: Jude Bellingham has the potential to change the way England play at the World Cup finals after the young midfielder declared his arrival on the world stage in “fantastic” style.
Bellingham traveled to Qatar already seen as a World Cup potential after his early performances with Borussia Dortmund and England over the past year.
If anything, the 19-year-old exceeded those expectations with a mature display that put him in the center of England’s 6-2 defeat of Iran in their Group Two opener on Monday.
And Bellingham showed no sign of stage fright with the world’s eyes on him, his perfect header helping to put England ahead in the first half.
His first goal for England made Bellingham the nation’s second-youngest goalscorer in a World Cup behind Michael Owen.
Bellingham’s rapid rise came as no surprise to England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, a veteran of several major tournaments who admired the young player’s behavior in his first World Cup.
“He’s a great lad, still young but very mature. I think with him at Dortmund you can see he has leadership qualities and he’s really the captain there,” Pickford said this week.
“His performance that night was unbelievable for his World Cup debut. It was amazing.”
If Bellingham can maintain his dynamic form against the USA in the second group match in England on Friday, then his country should be well positioned to secure the win that secures their place in the last 16.
And for England manager Gareth Southgate, Bellingham’s role represents the tactical evolution of a manager who was previously derided for his conservative style.
At the 2018 World Cup, when England lost in the semi-finals to Croatia, and Euro 2020, where they lost the final on penalties to Italy, Southgate’s men suffered from a fatal lack of killing instinct.
That instinctive caution was evident in Southgate’s selection of Declan Rice and Calvin Phillips as a defensive midfielder against Italy, while he played three defenders and Jordan Henderson in a devastating midfield role against Croatia.
Phillips and Henderson are both in the England squad for Qatar, but Southgate looks set to finally put his real-life past aside thanks to Bellingham’s emergence.
Against Iran, Bellingham was unleashed to join the attack to devastating effect.
“I told you I wanted to score more goals for Dortmund and England. It was a really proud moment for me,” said Bellingham.
As well as scoring England’s opener, his poise and strength helped unleash Harry Kane to provide the cross for Raheem Sterling’s goal.
Bellingham also sent Callum Wilson racing off the right wing with a laser-guided pass in the closing stages, a move that ended with a Jack Grealish goal.
Not only did Bellingham feature in England’s most lethal moment, he also made sure he was back in position alongside Rice whenever the situation called for a more defensive look.