To followers of Borussia Dortmund and the Bundesliga, this will have come as little surprise. Jude Bellingham dragged England kicking and screaming into a box office quarterfinal with France with a stunning performance against Senegal.
Senegal had been on top of a tepid first half when Bellingham changed the game. His driving run and cross put it on a plate for Jordan Henderson to open the scoring, just as Senegal had been warming the gloves of England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
The Africa Cup of Nations champions – minus their injured talisman Sadio Mane – barely had a chance to catch their breath as Bellingham inspired England's second before the break. A driving run from his own half tore Senegal to shreds, his pass found Phil Foden, who in turn spotted England captain Harry Kane. He did the rest.
England were 3-0 up before the hour, another assist for Foden, this time for another rising star for England, Bukayo Saka. But Senegal were long beaten by then. A scintillating performance by England, a virtuoso performance by their number 22, and a player who can scale the heights of the game, according to Foden.
"I don't want to big him up too much because he's still young but he's one of the most gifted players I’ve ever seen," Foden told British broadcaster ITV after the game. "He’s got everything and I don't see a weakness in his game. He's going to be the best midfielder in the world, for sure."
Bellingham's shirt number wasn't chosen by accident. He is comfortable as a midfield 4, 8 or 10 (which add up to 22) and has worn the number since his Birmingham City days, the English second-tier club where he cut his teeth before switching to Dortmund in 2020. But Bellingham plays all three positions simultaneously; he can tackle, head, assist and score as well as almost any midfielder in the game and his maturity off the field is matched on it, able to command a game in a manner that belies his youth.
The only time he went too far came last year when he questioned the choice of referee Felix Zwayer following a defeat by Bayern Munich, referring to the referee’s six-month ban for a match-fixing scandal in 2005. Bellingham was fined heavily by the DFB.
'I'm here because I've played well'
There can be no questions about Bellingham's conduct on the field though. A player who only made his Dortmund debut in September 2020 after becoming the world's most expensive 17-year-old is now one of the world's most coveted players.
"I'm here because I've played well for Dortmund and in the last games for England,” Bellingham told the BBC on the eve of England's opening 6-2 win over Iran. "Over the past few years even with the junior England teams, I've always been thinking ‘how can I get myself into the senior team?'"
Even before England's opening goal at the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, Bellingham was the only English player to show any kind of quality in a sub-par opening 45 minutes. His impact on this World Cup – two assists and a goal in four games – is the biggest by a teenager at this tournament since Kylian Mbappe four years ago. The Frenchman set the tournament alight in Russia and in the years since has gone on to establish himself as one of the world's premiere players, scoring twice earlier on Sunday as France beat Poland 3-1.
Bellingham is on a similar path and the two will meet in a mouth-watering quarterfinal between the tournament's top scorers and the reigning champs.
Bellingham is relatively new to coach Gareth Southgate's preferred XI, profiting only from a long-term injury to Kalvin Phillips. English players plying their trade outside of the revered Premier League tend to have a hard time breaking into the England squad, a factor that wasn't lost on the 19-year-old.
Shades of Gerrard
"The thing I was most worried about was that I'm playing in Germany and they [the other England players] are going to be talking about their games at the weekend and they won't have a clue what we have done, who I am, how I played… so it will be difficult,” Bellingham told English radio station Talksport recently.
"But it turns out they do when you just get chatting and they take interest and I'm interested in what those guys are up to. You really overthink it before you come in and you just realise they are great lads."
Bellingham, who cites Steven Gerrard as his idol, shares many similarities with the former England captain. The baton of skipper will surely pass from Kane to Bellingham in the years ahead as the rapid rise of this dynamic England and Dortmund midfielder shows no signs of slowing.
Edited by: Matt Pearson