Jude Bellingham: Europe's best 16-year-old?
Written by smarterscout — May 31, 2020
LYON’S much-heralded forward Rayan Cherki is 16, but has played only a handful of minutes in Ligue 1.
In contrast, Jude Bellingham has started 26 matches for Birmingham City, playing primarily on the left side of a midfield two, or wider on the left.
The teenager, who will be 17 at the end of June, represents more than just an inspiring career in the making - he could be a future talisman for his national side, too.
When was the last time England had a dominant midfielder who could play centrally, in a defensive role and even wide? Probably Steven Gerrard.
If we look at Bellingham's stats for this season at a Premier League standard (since there's little doubt he will soon jump to the top tier) it's clear he's a great defender who is excellent in the air and a fair tackler as well. He has outstanding attacking output, but his ball retention suggests a very risky style of play for a deep-sitting midfielder.
Indeed, his smartermap (below) shows that even though most of his touches come from behind midfield, he does take risks when he gets forward.
Bellingham dribbles a fair amount up the left flank, though he doesn't yet have the skill to take on most Premier League defenders. He also attempts a lot of longer passes when he crosses midfield and from the edge of the box to the goalkeeper’s right.
He's an adventurous player, but at some point may have to find a balance between the aggression of his attacking actions and his ability. At least he will if his ability stops developing.
Bellingham's box-to-box style puts him in good company among midfielders in Europe's top five leagues. The ones whose styles he most closely matches from the past few seasons are Saul Niguez and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who has found success in the Premier League after a somewhat rocky start – albeit at the ripe old age of 20.
Below, you can see how Bellingham stacks up to them right now. Attacking output and ball retention are the big differences, and there's probably a trade-off between the two.
If and when Bellingham settles into a slightly safer style of play, with more link-up passing, his ball retention will probably improve, while his attacking output will wane somewhat.
This change should help him to control games – unless he prefers to play for a club with a more direct style of play at which he can continue to maraud freely.
In any case, Niguez and Hojbjerg still have below average ball retention at a Premier League standard and still take risks.
Another interesting comparison is with two younger names - Djibril Sow at Frankfurt and Ibou Sissoko at Strasbourg.
If you look above, you can see how Sissoko, in particular, seems to have similar capacities and propensities to Bellingham, although his attacking output is much lower. The difference comes in part because Bellingham shows more discipline in shooting – the estimated scoring chances of his shots average 13%, versus 4% for Sissoko.
But all three players have been involved in half of their clubs' goals while on the pitch, which is a very strong stat for their positions.
There's so much more to come from Bellingham that it almost seems silly to write about what sort of player he might become. Midfielders like him typically peak in their mid-to-late 20s, so it could be a decade before he displays his talents to full advantage.
Right now, another season in the Championship – or even a move to the Bundesliga, where he could learn a more technical way of playing – might actually do him some good.
After all, the Premier League will still be there when he's old enough to vote.
- smarterscout uses algorithms developed by Dan Altman at North Yard Analytic and is a fast, easy-to-use platform for evaluating the performance of football players around the world.