Football News

Meet the three wonderkids keeping up with Jude Bellingham

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 16:00, 9 November 2023

Jude Bellingham was recently named the fifth Kopa Trophy recipient.

The 20-year-old England international followed in the footsteps of Spain duo Gavi, Pedri as well as Matthijs de Ligt and Kylian Mbappé.

Bellingham, who previously finished runners-up in 2021, is expected to be named as the equally prestigious ‘Golden Boy’ next month. A wanted man, the native of Stourbridge swapped Borussia Dortmund for Real Madrid in the summer, and to say he’s made an impact would be a gross understatement.

He is worth every penny of the reported £88.5m paid for his services. To date, he’s made no fewer than 14 appearances for Spain’s most decorated club in all competitions subsequently registering 13 goals while creating three more. No efforts were more globally shown than his equaliser and winner at Barcelona in a first-ever Clasico outing.

Playing beyond his years, Bellingham is not only developing as a technical leader for club, but country as well. “He’s been a catalyst. The way he carries himself and the way he plays on the field shows that,” Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate stated.

“He’s had that since he walked through the door, frankly. The power in his play gives us something. He can wriggle out of tight situations. That belief, that willingness to engage with the crowd. They are rare traits.

“His mentality is incredible for his age. To have such an impact at such a young age, his maturity – we are very lucky to have him.”

However, it’s fair to say, Bellingham isn’t the only ‘wunderkind’ shining across Europe at the moment. As of this writing, he’s among four players currently aged 21 to have been directly involved in 10+ goals, and two of them ply their football in a league he knows so well.

Florian Wirtz

German football has a habit of producing eye-catching playmakers, but not all go on to fulfil their potential. There are high hopes for Bayer Leverkusen star Florian Wirtz who has so far netted five goals this season and provided eight assists whilst creating more chances than any other player in this criteria. If we go even further, Wirtz is the only player across Europe’s top seven divisions, Champions League and Europa League to create 80+ chances and complete 80+ take-ons in 2023 (109 take-ons completed and 100 chances created).

In that same framework, he’s created more goals this year than any other player (16 in 38 games, also nine goals). He’s a big reason behind Leverkusen’s transformation under Xabi Alonso and the Spanish tactician feels Wirtz possesses a similar ability to record eight-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi.

“There are good players and there are players who look good on the pitch. The player who looks good does things that are nice, but not necessarily efficient,” he said earlier this year. “Why is Messi so good? Because he knows how and when to play simple passes. Messi says: ‘You’re in a better position? Here, there you have the ball!’ It’s not always about making the most brilliant move, but the best and smartest. Florian can do that. That’s why he’s so good.”

It’s hard to see Wirtz, whose present deal expires in 2027, staying at Bayer in the long term. Already a host of European super clubs are keeping tabs on the German international with regional powerhouse Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Barcelona and Liverpool among those reportedly interested. His signature will undoubtedly be a record fee Leverkusen will receive.

Xavi Simons

It feels inevitable Xavi Simons and Bellingham will cross paths. Simons came through Barcelona’s esteemed youth setup but a lack of opportunities saw him relocate to Paris Saint-Germain where he came across the same problem. A brief loan spell at PSV Eindhoven saw the young Dutchman develop into a genuine star (22 goals and 12 assists through 48 appearances).

PSG reactivated his buy-back clause and Simons is now temporarily representing Bundesliga bridesmaids RB Leipzig to devastating effect. He’s provided more assists than any other player in Germany’s top division this season – with only Pedro Neto the only player in Europe’s top seven leagues with more – while producing another alongside five goals across the league and Champions League.

Not just a finisher and provider he’s also played more passes into the opposition box than any player in this criteria. Although signing a one-year deal, RB Leipzig head coach Marco Rose wants a lengthy partnership, as Simons “is practically a prototype of exactly what we want for our play. He enjoys chasing loose balls and going into challenges, while he transmits such great energy off and on the ball. He is a gifted footballer too.”

Jeremy Doku

Pep Guardiola is rarely left speechless but Jeremy Doku had the celebrated manager lost for words following his star-making turn against Bournemouth which saw him create four goals while scoring another in a 6-1 win. Doku, who joined the Premier League and European Cup holders from Stade Rennais, boasts a return of four goals and six assists but it’s his movement which excites his manager and those watching.

“He’s one of the fastest players in five metres,” Guardiola pointed out. “It’s incredible how he can change the rhythm in five metres but when he is not able to dribble he is able to take good decisions and I’m impressed with that. That’s why he’s a great footballer.”

Looking at the numbers, his 53 take-ons is more than any other player across Europe’s top seven leagues, Champions League and Europa League – including all ages. Leroy Sané, a former Man City winger, is the only other player to hit a half-century so far.

Following that aforementioned Bournemouth win City faced Young Boys in European football’s premier club competition; Doku came on ten minutes before time only to complete six completed dribbles, which is the most on record in a Champions League match for a player who entered the pitch in the 80th minute or later.

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