Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has called Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham the “whole package” but suggested his development might have been stifled if he had stayed in England.
The 19-year-old Bellingham scored against City in each of their last two meetings with Dortmund, albeit in losing causes as Guardiola’s side came from behind in both, and will be out to cause more problems in Tuesday’s Champions League clash.
Bellingham followed the path of Jadon Sancho, who turned down a new City contract to join Dortmund in 2017 when he left boyhood club Birmingham for Westphalia two years ago, but the decision has paid off handsomely thanks the club’s policy of promoting youth.
Guardiola, who meticulously managed Phil Foden’s development at City, suggested Bellingham would not have got the same opportunities on the east side of Manchester or at any of the Premier League’s other top clubs.
“I think Borussia Dortmund is the perfect place for young talent to come,” he said. “Maybe if Jude Bellingham was in England he would go to City, United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, or Tottenham, maybe he would not get the minutes. The best thing for a young player to be better is to play minutes.
“He was 17 when he arrived but it was not just about his quality, how he was leading, his kicking, going to the referee. This guy was something special in terms of his mentality. Now he is 19 and he is already one of the captains.
“The quality, everybody knows it. The whole package is really good.”
As Bellingham continues to be linked with a big money switch to the Premier League, many City fans are hoping he will follow Ilkay Gundogan, Manuel Akanji, and Erling Haaland in swapping Signal Iduna Park for the Etihad.
Inevitably Haaland’s return to Dortmund dominated the conversation in Monday’s press conference, with both Guardiola and defender Ruben Dias peppered with questions about the man who has scored 17 goals in his first 11 appearances.
Dias can be grateful the relentless schedule of games means he rarely has to face Haaland in training, but he was clear about the challenge the 6ft 5in Norwegian poses.
Erling Haaland is set to face his former team (PA)
“When you talk about the relationship between striker and defender it’s all about the margins,” the Portuguese said. “Some guys if it’s a 50-50 against them you know you can win (the duel). With other guys you need it to be 60-40 in your favour and at the top level 70-30.
“Erling you need it to be 100 to you, because if you go to 99 with him he can do something. He’s that kind of striker.”
With less than a month to go to the World Cup several players will inevitably already have one eye on Qatar – but not Haaland as Norway have not qualified.
After scheduled friendlies against the Republic of Ireland and Finland next month Haaland can enjoy a long rest – potentially a frightening thought if he goes into the second half of the season fresher than the defenders he is facing.
Pep Guardiola is unsure how a mid-season World Cup will impact on his players (PA)
“He will be in Marbella for sure, or in Norway,” Guardiola said. “It depends on how he behaves in Marbella as to how good he is for the second half of the season. Hopefully he doesn’t drink much, eat much and comes back fit and then he can be perfect for the second half of the league.
“But this is the first time in our life (a winter World Cup) is going to happen and we don’t know how people are going to come back. Maybe some players will come back incredibly happy, some maybe depressed if they get eliminated in the knock-out stages, some have more holidays.
“We have seen how many injuries there are with this insane calendar…We will see when they come back, we will smell it, then the routine on a daily basis will adapt.”