After a whirlwind 12 months for the teenager, Jude Bellingham reflects on being named the EFL Young Player of the season for season 2019/20, his time at Birmingham City and the Sky Bet Championship.
Bellingham’s EFL journey started in August 2019, shortly after his 16th birthday. After making his debut in Round One of the Carabao Cup, the midfielder truly burst onto the scene for the Blues, proving not only a regular for the side, but arguably one of their best players too.
After an impressive 44 appearances in his debut season, the youngster secured a move to German Bundesliga side, Borussia Dortmund and was yesterday rewarded for an unforgettable first season with the EA Sports Young Player of the Season award and the LFE Championship Apprentice of the Year award.
"I’m very, very grateful and happy to be rewarded for my season with these two trophies,” Bellingham said, speaking to the EFL following the announcement.
"There were a lot of great young players in the league last season, so to be recognised for my performances makes me really proud.
"It was really competitive this year, there were some really, really good young players playing football and that makes it even more special to me to receive these awards."
Bellingham’s debut in August 2019’s Carabao Cup game against Portsmouth saw the rising star become the club’s youngest-ever player, breaking a record that had previously been held for 49 years by Blues legend, Trevor Francis.
"It was such a surreal moment, I don’t think it will every properly hit me, certainly not for a while anyway,” he said reflecting on his first-team debut for his boyhood club.
"We all have a boyhood club and Trevor Francis was one Birmingham’s biggest players, he went on to do great things and what he did at the club makes him a perfect role model for me.
"To break his record and continue to play in the team all season was massive for me and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to describe what that meant to me and my family.”
By the end of the month, Bellingham had added another record to his tally after scoring the winner on his home debut against Stoke City, to claim the youngest goalscorer crown too.
"It was like a month of dreams come true very quickly.
"I didn’t really expect it myself and when I scored my goal I was probably the luckiest guy on the pitch, but you’ve got to be in the right place to score goals! It was such a surreal moment and I just can’t even describe it."
Despite the individual accolades, the humble teenager was quick to thank - and praise - Birmingham City for their role in his development on and off the pitch.
"What Birmingham City did for me, I can’t thank them enough, I’d thank them a million times because they’ve given me the platform to go on and achieve the things that I have.
“I got so much support from them, all the way through from the age of seven. I must give thanks to Pep Clotet, it’s never easy for any manager of a team to throw in a 16 year old, especially in the Championship, but for him to stick by me was huge.”
So just how did Bellingham become one of the most-sought after teenagers in football?
"It’s not all about quality where us young players are concerned,” he explained.
"It’s about having that fire in your belly, the hunger to stand out and change a game regardless of your age. It’s easy to be given your debut and then coast a little bit, but to go and make an impact like many young players have done is a credit to young players in this league, the clubs that they’re at and the league itself.
"For me personally, it just took a lot of hard work. I wanted this more than anything in the world; to get into the first team and perform for Birmingham City was the only goal I had and that was my determination.
"There are some fantastic opportunities within the EFL with the cup competitions especially, it gives youngsters like me a chance and a platform to shine, especially when we’re coming up against experienced first-team professionals."
But it’s not just Bellingham’s football ability that makes him special. His exemplary attitude and character has seen him committed to developing himself away from football, as well as leave a legacy that stretches beyond what happens on the pitch - something he was recognised and rewarded for with the LFE Championship Apprentice of the Season Award.
"It’s quite tough when you’re playing in the Championship week in week out, the games are quite demanding, it’s a hectic schedule and it’s hard to find the time sometimes to work hard on your education, but it’s essential at the same time.
"I’ve got to give a lot of praise to Mark Sinclair and Birmingham City for helping me through this season and helping me catch up when I needed to.”
Away from the classroom, Bellingham’s involvement with charity organisation The Mustard Seed Project has seen him raise both money and awareness to help students less fortunate in Kenya.
"I believe that everyone should try and do their bit,” he continued.
"I tried to do that this season at Birmingham. It’s important to use your profile and platform to do good things. My family are good friends with the people that run the Mustard Seed Project and I just wanted to be involved.
"I don’t deserve the praise - they do, I just put my name to it and use my profile to push it out allowing people to interact and get involved. I’m really just doing my bit."
His influence on and off the pitch saw him quickly become one of the most highly-rated teenagers in football thanks to his mature and composed performances in the heart of midfield, and after catching the eye of many around the world, it was Borussia Dortmund that won the race to sign the wonderkid - a club that has been pivotal in the development of another young English talent, Jadon Sancho.
"I’m very grateful to get the opportunity to play for this club,” he said.
"I really appreciate the trust they’ve put in me by signing me. We’ve had a lot of training sessions, a few pre-season games and I just can’t wait to get started. It’s been so far, so good for me and I just want to carry that into the main season.”
There’s no doubt that the now-17-year-old has a bright future ahead of him, and in addition to his two EFL Awards, his whirlwind 12 months was recently topped off with an England U21 call-up - the latest milestone of a career packed full of promise.
He joins a number of players - such as Ryan Sessegnon, James Justin, Ebere Eze and Max Aarons - to have learned their trade in the EFL, and with call-up seeing the teenager jump four age groups, he was again quick to thank his former club and the EFL for opportunities provided thus far.
"Again, it’s a credit to the league and the EFL that it gives young players these opportunities,” he said, reflecting on the recent call-up.
"A lot of the England U21 squad has come through the EFL or is playing in the EFL. Obviously us as players have to take those opportunities, but to be playing in a league that demands so much and is so competitive definitely opens up the door for us young players and that will continue.
“The Championship is a hard division to ignore and it’s also hard to deny that it’s one of the best in the world, especially looking at this season just gone. There’s not been one team that you’d bet your house on to go up or to stay in the division, it’s so unpredictable and that’s testament to the division and helps us as players too.
“It's been a great platform for me to perform and show off my ability. For that reason and for many other young players like me, I think it’s great and that’ll continue for other young players coming through."