With Haaland gone, Bellingham in the spotlight at Dortmund

FILE - Dortmund's Jude Bellingham, left, celebrates after scoring his team's 2nd goal as Frankfurt's Timothy Chandler, right, reacts during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Dortmund in Frankfurt , in Germany, Jan. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

FILE – Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham, left, celebrates after scoring his team’s 2nd goal as Frankfurt’s Timothy Chandler, right, reacts during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Dortmund in Frankfurt , in Germany, Jan. 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

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Despite his young age, Jude Bellingham is already a respected leader at Borussia Dortmund.

The 19-year-old England midfielder received the captain’s armband in a friendly against Villarreal last month in a sign of his growing stature ahead of his third season at the club. Only German veterans Marco Reus and Mats Hummels are ahead of Bellingham in Dortmund’s hierarchy under coach Edin Terzić.

It is not a surprise. Bellingham made 32 appearances for Dortmund last season – more than any other player – scoring three goals and eight more from midfield.

But this season will be crucial for the teenager’s development at Dortmund, his World Cup hopes and the possibility of a record transfer in 2023.

With Bayern Munich in transition after selling Robert Lewandowski to Barcelona, ​​Bellingham may even have a chance to help Dortmund break Bavaria’s decade-long monopoly on the Bundesliga title. Top decision makers from Europe’s biggest clubs are watching closely.

“He’s not on the market, so that’s the first problem with this player,” Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp said of Bellingham recently. “Well, the only problem with this player!”

A transfer right now seems highly unlikely, but next year could be possible.

“Always a pleasure to wear black and yellow. Hope many more good times to come,” Bellingham recently wrote on Twitter to mark two years since signing for Dortmund.

Bellingham has shared the limelight with other promising young players at Dortmund so far, playing alongside Jadon Sancho in his first season before he left for Manchester United, and two seasons alongside Erling Haaland, now at Man City.

With Haaland gone, Bellingham is Dortmund’s main attraction. He has already shown that he can handle pressure at a young age. Dortmund fans love Bellingham’s reluctance to back down, whether on or off the pitch, especially when he clashed with the German football federation wondering why a referee once linked to a match-fixing affair had overseen his team’s game against Bayern Munich.

Bellingham’s great versatility – he can defend, start attacking and score goals – gives Terzić flexibility in how he sets up his team. It’s clear he will be the core of the team next season, having started every game he was available to play during Terzić’s first stint as caretaker manager in 2021-22.

Dortmund have a reputation as a finishing school for future stars, the question is when Bellingham will feel it’s time to graduate and move on. Haaland left Dortmund after two-and-a-half years, while Ousmane Dembélé lasted just 14 months before moving to Barcelona in 2017, although Sancho spent four years in Germany before joining Manchester United last year.

Bellingham’s contract runs until 2025 and a move for the midfielder is seen as most likely next year. He’s already widely regarded as Dortmund’s most expensive player in terms of market value, but his stock may have risen even further by then.

Bellingham played in three of England’s games in last year’s European Championship – when he was the team’s youngest player by two years – but was not selected for the defeat against Italy in the final.

However, he has increasingly become a central part of England manager Gareth Southgate’s plans and has played in seven of England’s last eight games. The World Cup in Qatar, when England start with group games against Iran, the United States and Wales, could be crucial for the next chapter.

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Naomi C. Amerson