BCFC: Play Jude?

One of the focal points of the coverage of Blues’ return to pre-season training has been Jude Bellingham. The 15-year-old attacking midfielder has featured prominently in imagery and videos posted by the club on social media as they look to showcase their homegrown talent.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

It’s quite understandable why Blues are putting Bellingham in the spotlight.

In the foofaraw of Garry Monk leaving, Blues CEO Ren Xuandong told the Daily Mail that Monk had been pushing his agent onto James Featherstone.

One such player, claimed Ren, was England Under 16 skipper Jude Bellingham. Ren said Monk was ‘even going to a meeting with Jude Bellingham’s parents trying to get this deal done, trying to get Featherstone to represent Jude’.

My understanding is that the implication made to Bellingham was that if he didn’t sign, then he wouldn’t get a chance to play at Blues – and that it was this issue that was the final straw before Monk was given the Spanish archer.

By including Bellingham so much they are showing him he is indeed valued by the club and that he has potential to be involved in the first team.

However, as the hype builds around the teenage wunderkind, I have to admit my concern for the pressure on him.

While I do believe in the adage “if they’re good enough, they’re old enough” I still think caution has to be the watchword with a player that is so young.

For every player like Wayne Rooney, James Milner or Cesc Fabregas that has broken onto the scene as a youngster, football is littered with players who made their debuts incredibly early only to fade away.

A good example of this is Matthew Briggs, who was the Premier League’s youngest ever debutant until that record was broken in May by Harvey Elliott.

The BBC profiled the now 28-year-old Briggs, who now plays in the eighth tier after falling down the leagues. While he made his debut in a blaze of glory, he didn’t play another first team game for 2.5 years.

The chief problem for most young players who have made their first team debut is the realisation that their debut is the start of the journey, not the end.

The mental strength required to continue hitting the levels of performance that got them the debut – and then to improve on that – is the real test of any player and is probably the biggest obstacle between any youth team player and a professional career.

I’m not saying for one second that would happen to Bellingham, but I also believe that the club have a duty to protect him.

Likewise, I think as fans we have to be careful how much pressure we put onto him.

I think most fans are in the same position as I am where they may have only seen a little bit of Bellingham playing and cannot make a judgement as to how good he actually is.

If he does make his debut then I think it’s important we are supportive and don’t expect too much too quickly.

As much as I would love to see Bellingham make the same impact as the last “Superboy” who played for Blues, I want him to be able to build on his debut and become a true Blues legend in the way Francis did.

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