Birmingham’s head of academy, Mike Dodds, revealed a brilliant story behind Jude Bellingham wearing number 22 as he reflected on the midfielder’s stunning rise to stardom.
The 17-year-old – who left Birmingham for Borussia Dortmund last summer – has already featured in a Champions League quarter final, is an England international and a regular for the Bundesliga side.
Bellingham’s technical abilities were on full display on Tuesday night as he impressed against a star-studded Manchester City side at the Etihad Stadium, drifting effortlessly past players and showing a poise, maturity and intelligence that belied his age.
He was unlucky not to grab a vital away goal for the visitors in the 2-1 defeat, controversially denied by referee Ovidiu Hategan for a perceived foul on Ederson.
Bellingham was highly sought-after last summer having made the breakthrough at Birmingham shortly after his 16th birthday, with Manchester United going out all to sign him – even drafting Sir Alex Ferguson in to help – before he opted for Dortmund..
Birmingham’s academy chief Dodds played a big part in his development and joined talkSPORT 2 this week to discuss Bellingham’s progress, and revealed when he began to stand out as a potential star of the future
“When he was kind of foundation-phase, he played in his own age group,” Dodds said. “When he came in at academy, we didn’t take him straight away.
“I remember he came in and trained with us and the scout at the time really liked him and I actually remember his first session as a seven-year-old.
“I thought, ‘Yeah he’s alright, not too bad’. He didn’t stand out; it probably wasn’t until he got to 13 where you started to go, ‘This boy is very good.’
“Then, obviously, we had to be very detailed in his programming in terms of what games he played in, who he trained with and what age groups he trained with.
“I got asked the question the other week around him being a generational talent and that anyone could produce him. It’s quite offensive.
“There were so many meetings around his programme and there were so many people involved with his programme and it doesn’t just happen by luck.
“He deserves a lot of credit and his family deserve a lot of credit too, but that doesn’t happen by luck – I don’t care what anyone says.”
Blessed with the physical attributes to compliment his undoubted ability, Bellingham is very much in the mould of a modern midfielder.
Dodds revealed this was drilled into him Birmingham’s training ground from his tender years, and revealed his ability to play in a variety of position is just why he chose his precious number 22 shirt.
He added: “He would have been about 13 or 14 and like most boys that age, they want to be a number 10.
“And I remember, we sat down with him and we said, ‘we think you’re doing yourself a disservice, we think you can do all of it. So we came up with, ‘we think you can be a 22.’
“His eyes lit up and we knew had hooked him from then on in! We said we thought he could be a holding midfielder, or a four. We thought he could be a box-to-box, which is an eight and we thought he could be a scorer and a creator, so a 10.
“And from the age of 13 onwards he has held on to that all the way through and you can see that in his game.
“He made his debut at Birmingham City and he said, ‘I want my squad number to be number 22’ and said the same thing at Dortmund.
“So what I am hoping is that kids are going to look at that and go, ‘I am going to be the next 22’ and he sets a trend off in terms of being able to do everything.
“I genuinely think he can do everything; I think depending on the tactical needs of the game, he can play in all three positions and I think that is what makes him so unique.”