Birmingham Academy Director Mike Dodds revealed a brilliant story behind Jude Bellingham wearing the number 22 as he reflected on the midfielder’s astonishing rise to stardom.
The 17-year-old – who left Birmingham for Borussia Dortmund last summer – has already made a Champions League quarter-final, is an England international and a key man for the Bundesliga squad.
Bellingham’s technical abilities were in full view on Tuesday night as he impressed against a star-studded Manchester City squad at the Etihad Stadium, effortlessly drifting off the players and exhibiting a poise, maturity and intelligence that denied his age.
He was unlucky not to score a vital away goal for the visitors in the 2-1 loss, controversially denied by referee Ovidiu Hategan for an alleged foul on Ederson.
Bellingham was in high demand last summer after breaking through at Birmingham shortly after his 16th birthday, with Manchester United going out of their way to sign him – even drafting Sir Alex Ferguson to help him – before opting for Dortmund .
Birmingham academy chief Dodds was instrumental in his development and joined talkSPORT 2 this week to discuss Bellingham’s progress, and revealed when he started to stand out as a potential star of the future .
“When he was sort of the founding stage, he played in his own age group,” Dodds said. “When he got to the academy, we didn’t take him right away.
“I remember he came to train with us and the scout at the time liked him a lot and I actually remember his first session when he was seven years old.
“I thought, ‘Yeah, he’s fine, not too bad.’ He didn’t stand out; it was probably only when he got to 13 years old that you started to think to yourself, “This boy is very good”.
“Then obviously we had to be very detailed in his lineup in terms of what games he played, who he trained with and what age groups he trained with.
“I was asked the question the other week about him being a generational talent and that anyone could produce him. It is quite offensive.
“There were so many meetings around his program and there were so many people involved in his program and it doesn’t just happen by chance.
“He deserves a lot of credit and his family also deserves a lot of credit, but that doesn’t happen by accident – I don’t care what anyone says.
Endowed with the physical attributes to complement his unmistakable ability, Bellingham is very much in the mold of a modern midfielder.
Dodds revealed that it had been drilled into him from a young age, and said his ability to play in a variety of positions was the reason he picked his precious No.22 shirt – which has since been withdrawn by Birmingham in his honor.
Dodds recalled, “He would have been around 13 or 14 and like most boys that age they want to be 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 anything. So we came up with, “ We think you can be a 22. ”
“His eyes lit up and we knew he had it hooked from there!” We said we thought he could be a midfielder or a four. We thought he could be a box-to-box, which is an eight and we thought he could be a goalscorer and a creator, so a 10.
“And since he was 13 he’s been hanging on to that all the way through and you can see it in his game.
“He made his Birmingham City debut and he said ‘I want my team number to be number 22’ and said the same in Dortmund.
“So what I’m hoping is the kids are going to look at this and say, ‘I’m going to be the next 22’ and it sets a trend in terms of being able to do anything.
“I really think he can do anything; I think depending on the tactical needs of the game he can play in all three positions and I think that’s what makes him so unique.