England will head into the World Cup on a six-match winless streak, the longest in a major tournament, but will be lifted by Jude Bellingham’s spectacular performance against Germany.
The Three Lions failed to lift morale in a thrilling 3-3 draw against the four-time world champions at Wembley on Monday.
At 19, Bellingham took the lead to help ignite a 2–0 to 3–2 return fight with 12 minutes into the second half.
The Borussia Dortmund midfielder started a move that saw Luke Shaw score England’s first open field goal in over 520 minutes.
Bellingham then put his body on the line to win a penalty, which Harry Kane converted to complete the comeback before Kai Havertz equalized for the away side.
“I think the most important thing is that he has a top-level mentality to compete,” Southgate said.
“Yes, he has technical ability and sportsmanship, but what sets the best players apart is that their mentality never loses.
“They run the game and they don’t seem to be bothered by any case and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Bellingham was part of the England squad that reached the final of a major tournament for the first time in 55 years at last year’s postponed Euro 2020, but spent little time on the pitch.
Southgate’s critics note the stubbornness and loyalty to the players who have played for him in the past.
This belief proved misplaced in the selection of Harry Maguire, who was at fault for Germany’s first two goals despite the Manchester United captain being ruled out at club level.
Bellingham could also suffer due to Southgate’s loyalty to midfield pairing Declan Rice and Calvin Phillips, who played well together at Euro 2020.
However, Phillips’ shoulder injury, which could have excluded the Manchester City midfielder from the World Cup in Qatar, gave Bellingham an opportunity at Wembley that he took full advantage of.
– Wunderkind –
Wunderkind Bellingham made his debut for Birmingham at the age of 16.
His boyhood club was ridiculed for dropping his jersey number 22 when he left the club after only one season in the first team.
“He said he wants to be number 10 (creative midfielder). I said, “I think you could be 22nd,” Mike Dodds, Bellingham’s longtime academy coach, told The Athletic.
“He asked me what I meant and I said, ‘You can be No. 4, No. 8 and No. 10 – the one who can do all this.’
Despite interest from Manchester United, he chose Dortmund because of the German giants’ reputation for developing young talent.
Now as he enters his third season in the Bundesliga, he is once again surrounded by transfer speculation with United, Manchester City and Liverpool all expected to fight for him next year – Borussia Dortmund are reportedly asking £150 million ($160 million).
“I was impressed when he was 17, imagine he’s 19 now,” City boss Josep Guardiola said after Bellingham scored his second Champions League goal earlier this month.
“He is an exceptional player. I think everyone knows that.”
Southgate confirmed after the match with Germany that he was ready to block the “noise” from the media and fans in order to be bold in his beliefs.
The England boss has doubled down on his determination to play three backs and has publicly backed Maguire and Shaw, who are also battling for playing time at Manchester United.
But, fitness permitting, it’s inconceivable that Southgate wouldn’t start at Bellingham when England kick off their World Cup campaign against Iran on 21 November.
“Build everything around Jude Bellingham,” former England midfielder Jermaine Jenas tweeted. “He has that ‘I’ll do what I want’ attitude that this team needs!”