Jude Bellingham says the chance to play regularly for Borussia Dortmund was one he simply could not turn down.
Bellingham, 17, joined Dortmund from Birmingham City in the summer in a deal that could eventually be worth £30m.
The England Under-21 midfielder has scored once in nine games for Dortmund, becoming the club’s youngest goalscorer and the youngest English player to appear in the Champions League.
He is expected to feature in the Champions League against Bruges on Wednesday, before facing Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga on Saturday.
Bellingham believes all this justifies his decision to turn his back on offers from England, including Manchester United, and move to Germany.
“The only thing I was bothered about in making this decision was playing football,” he said. “It’s as clear as day if you come here and do the right things, you will get your opportunity.
“There are plenty of young players out there who, if given the chance, would shine at first-team level but they don’t quite get the chance for whatever reason.
“I’m almost an example, as well as many others in our first team, for just giving people a chance. Throw them in the deep end and see what they can do.
“There are a lot more in the Championship who can handle it. These players are often better than you would think.”
The Sancho factor
Bellingham is not the first 17-year-old Englishman to join Dortmund in recent times. Jadon Sancho was signed from Manchester City in 2017 and has gone on to become a full England international.
“Jadon is a big example for someone English and my age.
“We’re all trying to play but, specifically, we’re trying to make that next step into Europe’s elite. Jadon has done that perfectly.
“There’s no denying that, and looking at his journey was a massive factor for me.
“I didn’t really speak to him before I came out, I sort of did it through other people. I would mention something and they would say: ‘Jadon thought the same about this or that.’
“Hopefully I can mirror what he has done.”
The big decision
Bellingham was invited to Manchester United’s training ground and met key figures at the club, including legendary former manager Sir Alex Ferguson, but opted to join one of the most talented crop of young players in Europe. Another one-time United target Erling Braut Haaland, 20, and teenagers Gio Reyna and Reinier Jesus Carvalho are team-mates.
“Manchester United have a great squad – and my decision had nothing to do with Man United. Dortmund was the best place for me. After that, you ignore everything else.
“It’s been easy to build a connection because I can relate to my team-mates a little bit more. A lot of them are in a similar boat, especially Jesus and Gio, who are a similar age and points in our career.”
Bellingham’s father, Mark, scored more than 700 goals as a semi-professional and played well into his 40s. Jude’s 15-year-old brother Jobe is a Birmingham academy player and has played for England Under-15s.
“Both my parents are working class and filled me with the things you need to get along; not giving up, working hard, putting in the graft to go out and get something.
“I’ve seen the way they interact with people and how they treat them. When you have people like that, you don’t have to be told how to behave.
“I used to watch my dad play all the time. You can see it in the way I play… that non-league style of toughness and being gritty when you need to be is reflected in my game.
“I’m really proud of Jobe and can’t wait to see how he starts to develop over the next year or two. We’ve always pushed each other and the only times we fought, it was always about football and who was winning.”
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Bellingham is living in a city-centre apartment. There are huge limitations on what he can do because of the coronavirus pandemic, but he has a new language to learn and studies to complete. He is not cooking for himself yet, though.
“There is not a chance of that. I’m getting food from the club and my mum’s helping me out with all that kind of stuff.
“I was having two or three German lessons a week before the international break, and becoming fluent is definitely something I want to do. The schedule has been really busy so I have not really got back on it but I am understanding more day by day, even though I find it tough to speak.
“Virtually everyone speaks English but the coaches prefer to do everything in German. I have found if I pick up three words in a sentence, that is enough to piece together what they are speaking about.
“I still have a few things I need to do for my sports B-Tech. Mum has reminded me plenty of times you are never beyond education, so I need to get that boxed off and get my tutor off my case.”
Giant leap to Bundesliga
Bellingham shows remarkable maturity for someone who only made his senior debut, aged 16 years and 38 days, in August 2019. He remains unfazed by making the leap from junior football to the Champions League in the space of 18 months.
“I’ve never believed in my own hype and never wanted to get involved in it.
“I’m never too interested in what people say because, honestly, people’s opinions change like the weather. One minute you’re the best, the next you’re not ready.
“Maybe I come across as mature but when you’re in the environment I’ve been in for the last year, you have to grow up quickly and leave childish habits behind.
“What hit me straight away was that the talk of the Bundesliga being a lesser league is completely false. The teams are of a very high standard. Each team has a few players who are of great quality and I have to be at a certain level to my team-mates otherwise I am letting them and myself down.
“It has been a jump but it is one I think I was ready for, although, to be fair, my parents would say I’m still immature, and I’m just putting it on for you lot.”