DOHA: Jude Bellingham has the potential to become England’s World Cup game-changer after the teenage midfielder announced his arrival on the global stage in “magnificent” style.
Bellingham travelled to Qatar already regarded as a potential World Cup star following his precocious performances for Borussia Dortmund and England over the last year.
If anything, the 19-year-old exceeded those expectations with a mature display that put him at the heart of England's 6-2 demolition of Iran in their Group B opener on Monday.
Bellingham showed no sign of stage-fright with the eyes of the world on him as his perfectly-weighted header put England ahead in the first half.
His first England goal made Bellingham the nation's second youngest scorer at the World Cup behind Michael Owen.
Bellingham's rapid rise is no surprise to England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, a veteran of several major tournaments who has been impressed by the youngster's demeanour at his first World Cup.
“He’s a great lad, still a young lad but very mature. I think with him being at Dortmund you can see he’s got leadership qualities already being captain there,“ Pickford said this week.
“His performance the other night was unbelievable for his debut in the World Cup. It was magnificent.”
If Bellingham can maintain his dynamic form against the United States in England's second group game on Friday, his country should be well positioned to secure the win that would guarantee their place in the last 16.
And for England boss Gareth Southgate, Bellingham's role represents the tactical evolution of a coach previously derided for his conservative approach.
At the 2018 World Cup, when England were beaten in the semi-finals by Croatia, and Euro 2020, where they lost the final on penalties to Italy, Southgate's men were hamstrung by a fatal lack of killer instinct.
That innate caution was clear from Southgate's selection of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips as a pair of defensive midfielders against Italy, while he played with three centre-backs and Jordan Henderson in a destructive midfield role against Croatia.
Phillips and Henderson are both in the England squad in Qatar, but Southgate finally looks ready to cast aside his pragmatic past thanks to Bellingham's emergence.
Against Iran, Bellingham was given free rein 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,“ Bellingham said.
As well as scoring England's opener, his poise and power helped unleash Harry Kane to provide the cross for Raheem Sterling's goal.
Bellingham also sent Callum Wilson racing away down the right wing with a laser-guided pass in the closing stages, a move that ended with Jack Grealish scoring.
Bellingham didn't just feature in England's most lethal moments, he also made sure he was back in position alongside Rice whenever the situation demanded a more defensive outlook.
Remarkably, just two years ago, Bellingham was playing in the English second tier with Birmingham.
He has only 18 international caps but already finds himself compared to Frank Lampard, Bryan Robson and Steven Gerrard -- former England greats whose individual talents are all encompassed in Bellingham's multi-purpose midfield presence.
“The young boy, can we call him that? He’s not really now, he’s a man isn’t he? Bellingham. Oh my word what a performance, incredible,“ former England captain Alan Shearer told the BBC.
“It was a complete performance from a really exciting player. It was a special day for him and for England.”
Former England defender Rio Ferdinand added: “The authority he plays with out on the pitch goes well beyond his years.
“He’s a fabulous footballer but delivering at a World Cup like that at that age.
“We talk about the great midfielders we’ve played with and we’ve seen in our generation, none of them were doing what he’s doing at his age on this stage.” - AFP