Editor’s note: Tor-Kristian Karlsen is a Norwegian football scout and executive and is the former chief executive and sporting director at AS Monaco. He will write regularly for ESPN on the business of soccer and the process of scouting. In his latest column, he looks at Borussia Dortmund’s newest signing: Jude Bellingham.
Amid the wave of English teenagers coming through across football, the story of Birmingham City’s Jude Bellingham is certainly one of the most remarkable. It’s unusual to see a 16-year-old establish himself as a regular in a league as demanding as the English Championship, but what is even more uncommon is doing so in central midfield. Now Borussia Dortmund, home of some of the world’s most exciting prospects — Jadon Sancho, Giovanni Reyna, Erling Haaland, etc. — awaits the Birmingham City starlet as they confirmed the transfer on Monday.
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Those who have scouted and followed the Stourbridge-born midfielder over the past decade might not be so surprised to see Bellingham — who turned 17 on June 29 — breaking through at the first-team level, being well aware of his quick feet, ability to twist and turn himself out of tight spaces and natural talent with the ball. Neither would they be astonished by the monthslong pursuit by top clubs both home (Manchester United) and abroad (Borussia Dortmund) for the teenager.
What might be unexpected, though, is to see a kid, one who traded mainly on his technical and individual skills, already possessing the engine to last the full 90 minutes and the body to cope with the hustle and bustle of one of the most physical, challenging leagues in the world.
This relatively recently acquired general athleticism and the ability to cover ground might be explained by the blessing of an early-developing body and youthful enthusiasm. Yet, perhaps even more impressively, Bellingham’s football instincts and tactical discipline are already at a level where letting him loose…