Gareth Southgate must build his team around Jude Bellingham


England’s 2022 World Cup campaign ended in disappointment, but Jude Bellingham still managed to make his mark in Qatar. The midfielder was one of the best players of the tournament and shone as a leader for the Three Lions. Nearly a year on, Bellingham has taken another giant leap forward.

Bellingham is now a Real Madrid superstar. The 20-year-old has scored 10 goals in his first 10 games for the Spanish giants with many of those goals late winners. Some believe Bellingham is currently the best player in the world, such is the level he’s performing at right now. Gareth Southgate has been asked about this.

“It’s not a stupid question,” said the England manager when asked about Bellingham and his status as the best. “I haven’t seen everybody and studied everybody playing. All I can say it is he’s a the one of the biggest clubs in the world arguably the biggest, and he’s playing exceptionally well and he’s currently the match winner for them so he’s in a brilliant place.”

With Euro 2024 starting to appear on the horizon, Southgate is entering an important period. He must settle on a team that can go all the way in Germany next summer. There are some positions still to be filled, but Southgate’s biggest priority should be moulding the Three Lions around its best player – Bellingham.

For a country seen as a traditional superpower of the sport, England has never produced a player widely considered the best in the world. Harry Kane is a star, and has been for a number of years, but he has never come close to winning a Ballon d’Or. Wayne Rooney played at the highest level and won it all at club level, but was outshone by Cristiano Ronaldo for Manchester United.

Only four English players have ever won the Ballon d’Or with Michael Owen the last one in 2001. The other three to have won the prestigious accolade were Sir Stanley Matthews, Sir Bobby Charlton and Kevin Keegan. While rival nations have produced the likes of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Ronaldo, England have longed for a player on a similar level.

It might still be early days for Bellingham, who has only played four full seasons as a full professional, but he has the quality to go further than any other English player as an individual. He can be the beating heart of the Three Lions for the next decade, possibly even longer. He is already extremely influential, both as a footballer and a natural leader.

“He’s playing higher [up the pitch this season] and we played him higher against Scotland,” said Southgate ahead of the upcoming England matches against Australia and Italy. “He had that freedom in the Ukraine game as well, but we didn’t use the game well enough in the final third. But he’s always looked dangerous and had an impact around the opposing box with Borussia Dortmund and with us.”

Indeed, Carlo Ancelotti has used Bellingham as an attack-minded figure for Real Madrid this season. The Italian coach had to devise a system to compensate for the loss of Karim Benzema who left the Santiago Bernabeu for Saudi Arabia and Bellingham, signed from Borussia Dortmund for €100m, has been a big part of this.

Euro 2024 could be another pivotal moment for Bellingham in his career. The 20-year-old has become one of the best players in the world at Real Madrid and England must give him a platform to do the same in the international game. Southgate can’t allow Bellingham to become another star who never had the chance to shine for his country.

Author: Mark Hayes