FFrom Birmingham to Borussia Dortmund, it has been an incredible two years for Jude Bellingham. Now the Stourbridge lad is taking center stage at the World Cup and while it’s increasingly hard to remember the lanky midfielder is still a teenager, few are surprised he’s already made its mark in Qatar.
“I watched every game last year and it was an evolution, he was learning little things game by game and starting to develop and improve,” says Gio Reyna, his best friend at Dortmund who was Witness Bellingham’s development up close, paying particular attention when he was sidelined through injury last season. “It’s great to see. We both struggled at times, but to see him and the role he’s played in our team is great.
It’s not until Friday, when England take on the United States, that the pair will be on the opposite side. Bellingham, who opened the scoring against Iran, are certain to keep their place and Reyna could make her first appearance in the final. “He’s been really great with me over the last year. He was the one who reached out the most and made sure everything was okay. When the group [for the World Cup] was announced that we were the first to text each other, probably 30 seconds after finding out. We talked about ‘smack’, but I like it. We sit next to each other on the bus, and when we fly we normally sit very close. It’s just a really good relationship. We really feed off each other on and off the pitch. He is a very good player and we will both be ready to fight.
Reyna isn’t the only member of the USA team with England ties. Leeds pair Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson, along with Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, are three of seven American players under contract with English clubs. Cameron Carter-Vickers, now of Celtic, started his Tottenham career in earnest aged 11 and Yunus Musah, who was born in New York to Ghanaian parents but moved to England from Italy at the age of nine years old, started in north London at Arsenal, where he played. alongside Bukayo Saka and with Bellingham for the England youth teams, where he captained the Under-15s, Under-16s and Under-17s. “Sharing a field with them will be very special,” says Musah.
Eligible to play for Ghana, Italy and the United States, Musah has made 32 appearances up to and including Under-18 level for England. He remembers a speech by Gareth Southgate. “It was great to have the England manager talking to you,” Musah said. “I was hoping that one day I would be selected by him.” How did he come to pin his colors in the USA last year, then? “With England I had a great time, I had no complaints. I had amazing times, great coaches, great experience and I got to the point where I had to make a decision for my professional career and I was at that young age, I had the opportunity to play with a great team in the United States and in this camp I had a good feeling.
Musah joined Valencia in 2019 after seven years at Arsenal, where he was coached by now Football Association member Greg Lincoln and Freddie Ljungberg. “He also really helped me with details,” Musah says of Ljungberg. “We were on tour in Germany and one day he made us watch the movie The Invincibles [about Arsenal’s unbeaten season when they won the Premier League in 2003-04] and it was amazing to see what they achieved and the talented players they had. It was inspiring. I was like, ‘One day, I’d like to do that too.’ »
Musah’s Ghanaian parents still live in east London but are in Qatar for the tournament. Since coming to Doha, Musah, a Muslim, has been able to practice his faith. “I take advantage of it. I was in a mall and it was time to pray and I was able to cross the road to the mosque opposite the mall to pray,” Musah says. “It’s not nice when you have to wait a long time to pray.”
There was a moment six minutes before half-time in England’s win over Iran when Bellingham’s desire to keep the ball in play drove him off the field for a split second before headbutting the corner flag in frustration as he finally admitted defeat.
In all honesty, at the moment it feels like the 19-year-old is in such a good place that he’s capable of the impossible. “What sets him apart is his ability to do it all,” says Reyna. “There’s not a lot you can point to that he can’t do. He’s a competitor. He can do anything. [If you] ask him to play left winger or left back, he could probably do both. Even on purpose? “Yeah,” smiled Reyna.