UEFA Champions League
All grown up
Speaking to Champions Journal, England and Dortmund star Jude Bellingham tells Ian Holyman about his sudden rise to the very top…

This article was first published in Champions Journal. Read the original article here.

Read the full version of this article in issue 13 of Champions Journal. Buy your copy here.

Let’s just get one thing straight: you can’t simply pigeonhole Jude Bellingham as a remarkable young man. At 19, yes, he’s most certainly youthful. But what he has done on the pitch, and especially how he conducts himself off it, would be remarkable for anyone regardless of age.

That said, he is undoubtedly an icon of precocity. His CV boasts a first-team debut for Birmingham City aged barely 16 (a feat even he admits he wasn’t completely ready for) and only Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney have become full England internationals at a younger age. But if you too had been talking to the man leaning casually against a post at Dortmund’s training ground, what would have struck you most is the extent of his maturity.

And it’s not just the kind of maturity that gets spoken about ‘in one so young’.The natural footballing talent in his feet has been accompanied by an uncanny ability to keep those same feet firmly rooted on the ground that he covers so gracefully in the colours of Borussia Dortmund. It is one of the essential ingredients required to take talent to the top level and has also been noticed at his club: coach Edin Terzic hands the teenage midfielder the armband when World Cup-winning defender Mats Hummels, who usually captains the side in the absence of the injured Marco Reus, cannot lead the team out.

That’s not to say Bellingham is all work and no play. He readily admits, finally betraying his age with a boyish grin, that his public persona is not exactly the same as his private one; when he’s not brushing up on his German, he’s keen to enjoy his downtime like any other teenager. But he happily acknowledges the boundaries that his job places on his behaviour, without suggesting any sense of sacrifice: his focus on football and fully exploiting his enormous potential remains front and centre.

Draw up the blend of qualities required to become a world-beating footballer and you would probably find nearly all of them in Bellingham. You wonder just how far he might go, having already made such giant strides in such a short time. Perhaps we’ll soon see him joined by his 17-year-old brother Jobe, who is following the fraternal blueprint as a first-teamer at Birmingham City and was Jude’s regular opponent when the pair were growing up in the Midlands. Whatever happens, Jude is definitely in the mood.

Let’s start at the beginning: do you remember that moment where you went, ‘Hang on Jude, you’re pretty good at this’?

In all honesty, no. I always just went out on the pitch to play football to win. I knew areas that I wanted to improve on and, obviously, I had dreams in the game, but I couldn’t tell you a moment where I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to make it.” I still look at myself sometimes and think, “I can do more and I can be more.” I always talk with my dad, saying how we need another 100 games until I can say that I’ve made it, just to make sure that I can stay on my toes and keep reaching for the next dreams.

How hard is it to always be looking to that next objective like that? Is it a challenge?

It’s just the way people at this level are wired. I’m still 19 – I’ve won maybe one trophy in my career and it’s not enough. I want to win way more, and I want to push the boundaries of my potential and talent. I’m around people all the time who have that exact same mindset, and when you’re in every day around those kinds of people, it’s natural that you want to win for yourself but also for them. All our dreams are aligned when we are playing together.

What does it mean to you to be playing in the Champions League? Do you have to pinch yourself?

It has always been my favourite competition. I’ve always loved it more than any other format of football and growing up, I always said that I wanted to play at Dortmund’s stadium with the big Yellow Wall. The [1-1 draw at home to Sevilla on Matchday 4] was the first time we’ve had 80,000 at a Champions League game and it was brilliant. It gives you goosebumps every time.

You seem to be very grounded. Where does that come from?

People are always saying to me how mature I am and I don’t really see it personally. I think when I’m in interviews and stuff, you see the side of me that’s really focused on the question that you’re asking me. But at home I’m like any normal kid: I want to have a laugh, I want to mess around a little bit. But in terms of the professionalism towards the football aspect of my life, it comes from my family and the people around me. They keep me focused. Every day I know that I have to mix being out on the pitch and doing these kinds of interviews with being off the pitch and having a bit of fun. There’s a time and a place for everything.

You clearly have a big role in the dressing room now, with Edin Terzic making you captain for the first time against Köln in October. How was that experience?

It was surreal before the game, when I was kind of thinking, “Wow, I’m going to captain Borussia Dortmund, one of the biggest teams in Europe.” I think that was where it really got to me but, to be fair, as soon as I got out for the warm-up and got a feel for the ball and the crowd, it was like any other game. I must have played thousands of football games from when I was about seven years old and it didn’t feel much different. I didn’t really think too much about having the armband on. I just felt, “I’ll do my game and, hopefully, we’ll win.”

You can read the rest of this interview in issue 13 of Champions Journal. Buy your copy here.

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UEFA Champions League
All grown up
Speaking to Champions Journal, England and Dortmund star Jude Bellingham tells Ian Holyman about his sudden rise to the very top…
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