BCFC: The Jobe Situation

A tweet from Fabrizio Romano suggesting that young Blues midfielder Jobe Bellingham is to make the move north to Sunderland set Blues social media alight on Thursday. The tweet reported a fee of £3M was agreed and a medical was to be done in the next ten days.

St Andrew's taken 26 December 2018

It’s a story that’s been doing the rounds for some time now, and with the season over I’m not surprised that the rumour mill is truly up and running.

It’s also a story I have had a lot of doubts as to whether I should write an article or not. The subject is emotive and judging by some tweets, some people have been losing their mind about the possibility of Jobe moving on.

Yet I think that there is so much to this story that fans do not know that I need to do my best to try to explain the nuances as to what is happening.

It’s also true that the story of Jobe potentially moving on is part of something bigger that is happening at Blues and in youth football in general – and that this needs to be understood too.

The Tweet

Before I go any further, I’m going to be completely transparent and admit I’m biased against Fabrizio Romano. I dislike the cult-like attention his transfer tweets get and I am of the personal opinion that the hype around those tweets is one of the things that isn’t good about football.

I wasn’t surprised by the amount of people who put credence into what Romano tweeted. He’s one of those journalists who seems to have the magic touch with transfers and the “here we go” catchphrase helps to seal the deal.

However, while I will admit I’m biased I do think I can make a point that Romano isn’t always right.

The last time Romano tweeted about a Blues transfer was last August, when he tweeted that Blues were going to sign Josh Maja from Bordeaux on a five-year deal and the Nigerian striker was to fly to England to complete medical tests.

It was all a bit strange; Maja himself quote-tweeted Romano’s tweet with a cryptic GIF which threw doubt on the situation and within 24 hours it was reported by Romano that it was off.

It’s a shame that it didn’t happen. Maja has gone on to score 16 times in 35 Ligue 2 games for Girondins de Bordeaux, helping the club to second place in the table with three games left and potentially promotion back to the French top flight.

Yet the truth is I’m not even sure a bid went in, which makes me wonder just why Romano tweeted that story.

It’s because of stuff like this that I get wound up by transfer gossip in social media.

I’m not sure if it’s because gullibility seems to be catching or if it’s just a case of people wanting something to be true so much they’re trying to manifest it into existence by continuing the hype; but you can guarantee that even the most bizarre rumours are repeated online by someone.

The backstory

The surname Bellingham is a bit special around Birmingham thanks to the exploits of Jude and I’ve often felt that has caused an unprecedented amount of pressure on Jobe.

After all, having seen the older brother take the Championship by the scruff of the neck at the tender age of 16 before ripping it up both for Borussia Dortmund and England, there is always going to be expectations from some fans that Jobe will follow in a similar path.

When Jobe started against Sunderland earlier this season, instead of pride for the lad I felt sympathy. While I’m sure I’m going to attract criticism for this statement, I don’t think Jobe was ready to start for the first team and the rumours afterwards that Eustace was pressured into including Jobe in the first XI didn’t help.

It’s a big shame really, because in the games he started at the end of the season I could see how far Jobe has progressed. He’s not only bulked up physically, but his ability has improved and he didn’t look at all out of place.

Against Sheffield United I thought Jobe stood out as one of the better performers – but I think by then, it might have been too late.

There’s long been rumours around some of the Blues messageboards that there was unhappiness in the Bellingham camp about the lack of first team action Jobe was getting.

This, coupled with the departure of coaches such as Mike Dodds and Stuart English seems to have created a situation where there is real antipathy towards the direction the club is going.

It’s a tricky situation for the club to navigate.

On the one hand, Jobe has the potential to be an asset that is worth a fair chunk of change. While I don’t think the younger Bellingham will quite reach the heights of Jude I do think he’ll have a good career.

On the other hand, minutes in the first team have to be earned on merit. Any suggestion of inclusion for any other reason is only going to get tongues wagging in the dressing room and potentially cause drama where there doesn’t have to be any.

I’m under the impression that the situation may be further complicated by the inclusion of a clause in Jobe’s contract that can see him depart for a set fee if Jobe doesn’t play a stipulated number of first team minutes.

Add that into the mix and you’ve got a very, very difficult situation.

It’s for this reason I said in my squad overhaul notes that I expect Jobe to depart and that I think it’s the best thing for both him and the club.

Sunderland would be the obvious club for Jobe to join.

Former Blues Academy chief Kristjaan Speakman is Sporting Director at the Black Cats, while former Blues Academy coaches Dodds and English are First Team Coach and Head of Coaching respectively.

It’s public knowledge that all three of those named are close to the Bellingham family and I would expect they would help to make Jobe feel settled and sure that he could take his next steps in his career at the Stadium of Light.

Defeat in the playoff semi-finals means that Sunderland will be in the Championship next season, which would make it more likely that Jobe could feature in the first team there.

While this story is probably going to play to a conclusion this summer, there is a bigger picture which will need to be considered by the new ownership regime when the takeover goes through.

The Bigger Picture

The Sheffield United game was the first time we saw Trevan Sanusi appear on the team sheet for Blues.

The 16-year-old winger had already been given the squad number 50 when he travelled with the first team to FA Cup games against Forest Green Rovers and Blackburn Rovers earlier in the season.

While Sanusi didn’t get onto the pitch (and break Jude Bellingham’s record in doing so), his inclusion in the first team squad was designed with one thing in mind: To encourage Sanusi to sign the offered scholarship terms with the club.

I don’t think it will be successful.

It’s been widely reported that big teams have been looking at Sanusi and it sounds like heads have been turned towards the lure of money and prestige.

The Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) rules make it fairly easy for a Category 1 academy to pick off players from lesser academies such as Blues (Category 2), and the fixed compensation on offer isn’t huge.

With Sanusi earning recognition by England in his age group, it’s especially galling but unfortunately this is the world Blues have to deal with – and it raises an issue that Blues are going to have to deal with going forwards if they want to retain the best young talent.

The problem Blues have is what they can do to encourage young players to stay.

The obvious answer to that is the pathway to the first team; it’s going to be easier for any good young player to make a debut at Blues than say Chelsea.

There’s an argument that at Blues a young player will have plenty of opportunities to train with the first team and impress the manager; while at a big club a young player is going to end up buried in the u21s or even out on loan, making it especially hard to impress first team management.

However, while that argument makes sense on a simple level, there are nuances to it which make it much more difficult in reality.

When making the point of the pathway to the first team being easier at Blues, it’s important that the club don’t fall into the trap of making promises that they just cannot keep.

After all, those first team minutes have to be earned on merit – and not every young player is going to merit those minutes.

As much as I want to see a Blues team made up of 11 exciting local youngsters, I’m realistic enough to understand that most Academy players will not make it at first team level.

Because so much can change for players at Sanusi’s age, I think it’s incredibly difficult for anyone to know for sure if a player is going to make it.

In my entire life watching football I’ve seen precisely two 16-year-old players who I have instantly thought “they’ve got it”; the obvious one being Jude, a very young James Milner playing for Leeds Reserves being the other one.

On the other hand, I’ve seen a whole litany of players who were technically brilliant who just fell by the wayside for a host of reasons. Injuries did for some while others found it difficult to make the consistent improvement required to progress to first team level.

Injuries are the other thing that scares me with young players being pushed into the first team squad. The physicality in first team football is so much more than in academy football I’d be concerned that young players might struggle with coping with the physical load.

Whatever happens this summer with youngsters in the Blues Academy, I think Academy head Liam Daish has got a big task on his hands to improve player improvement and retention.

The good news in all this is that with the impending takeover, there is a chance that the Academy will get the investment and support it needs; something which is important for the long term future of Blues.

I want to finish this article by reminding people of a few things.

Jobe Bellingham is still only 17 years old. While I’m sure his family do their best to guard him from some of the worst excesses of what people say on the internet, I do believe that the pressure must be difficult to deal with.

As much as there may be high feelings regarding Jobe’s future at the club, I think we have to respect that his future is almost certainly not in B9.

If Jobe decides it’s time for him to move on, then we need to respect that and move on with grace too.