How Birmingham City midfielder Jude Bellingham slipped through Manchester United's hands

James Ducker
·4 min read
Birmingham City midfielder Jude Bellingham - How Birmingham City midfielder Jude Bellingham slipped through Manchester United's hands - GETTY IMAGES
Birmingham City midfielder Jude Bellingham - How Birmingham City midfielder Jude Bellingham slipped through Manchester United's hands - GETTY IMAGES

It is somewhat ironic that the player whose progress did much to convince Jude Bellingham that his immediate future would be best served at Borussia Dortmund could end up moving to the club the ­Birmingham City midfielder has just knocked back.

Bellingham and Jadon Sancho will soon be team-mates at Dortmund, the latter’s development over the past three years since his move from Manchester City one factor behind yet another young English talent choosing to up sticks for Germany.

But, in different circumstances, Bellingham and Sancho might have found a home together at Manchester United, which tells you much about the intended direction of the club under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his desire for the sort of vibrant, young British core that served his mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson, so well.

Whether United are willing to cough up enough cash to persuade Dortmund to sell Sancho over the coming months remains to be seen but, in the case of Bellingham, they were unprepared to commit to the sort of terms that, for the second time in seven months, is likely to see a leading transfer target choose the Westfalenstadion over Old ­Trafford.

In January, the Norway striker, Erling Haaland, moved to Dortmund for £20 million despite a ­considerable charm offensive from Solskjaer and, like Sancho before him, has proved a revelation. Now Bellingham appears set to follow suit, less than four months after ­being given a personal tour of United’s training ground by Solskjaer and Ferguson, and will hope his ­career takes off in similar fashion.

Dortmund have not got a deal wrapped up just yet, and it is thought Birmingham could be in line to receive a fee much closer to £30 million than the initial £20.7 million being cited in Germany, but the transfer seems a ­matter of when, not if.

United are probably conscious of what the critics will say – that, after Haaland, it is another sign that they do not have the same pulling power of the past. There is a lot more to it than that, though, and given their rich record of youth development, and the strides being made by Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, Scott McTominay and Brandon Williams, the idea that Bellingham could not thrive in the same environment makes little sense.

Mason Greenwood (C) celebrates with Manchester United's French striker Anthony Martial (L) and Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford (R) after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Newcastle United - GETTY IMAGES
Mason Greenwood (C) celebrates with Manchester United's French striker Anthony Martial (L) and Manchester United's English striker Marcus Rashford (R) after scoring their second goal during the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Newcastle United - GETTY IMAGES

The reality is that the Dortmund model is incredibly appealing to young players and their families and representatives and, in ­Haaland and Bellingham’s instance, more persuasive than the impassioned pitch presented by United.

Dortmund know that, in two or three years, they could be selling Bellingham for a huge profit, much as could be the case now with Sancho, for whom they paid £8 million in 2017, but are asking £115 million.

It is a model that enables them to pay substantially more in wages than the market would traditionally expect for a player who turned 17 on Monday, and a lot more than United were prepared to stomach at this time.

With the promise of a move in a couple of seasons if the right offer comes in, there is also the prospect of another guaranteed big payday for the player and agent, provided he has kicked on. And with the standard of the Bundesliga being generally lower than the Premier League, and a greater chance of starting regularly for Dortmund than United, the attraction is ­obvious.

A false economy for United? Should they, in time, try to sign Haaland or Bellingham from Dortmund at great expense then that is the risk. But, equally, United recognise they could be setting dangerous precedents if they sought to pay over the odds now for a teenager and are determined to learn from past mistakes, not least the lavish contract given to Alexis Sanchez and the destabilising issues that invited.

For now, though, plenty of eyes will be watching to see if Bellingham can become Dortmund’s Sancho Mark II.