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Jude Bellingham earns praise from Gareth Southgate after fine start with England

England v San Marino – FIFA World Cup 2022 – European Qualifying – Group I – Wembley Stadium
(Image credit: Adrian Dennis)

England manager Gareth Southgate has praised the “thirst” shown by Jude Bellingham to learn from the experienced members of his squad.

The Borussia Dortmund midfielder became England’s third-youngest international of all time when he made his debut last year.

Bellingham, 17, also shone during the second half of Thursday’s 5-0 win over San Marino in the opening fixture of World Cup qualification.

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The midfielder may be in line to make his first competitive start when the Three Lions face Albania in Tirana on Sunday.

Speaking ahead of the game, Southgate was asked if the teenager reminded him of a young Rio Ferdinand when he was called up as a training player to help the England squad prepare at Euro 96.

“They are different people and different positions but both with a thirst to watch the top players to see what made them professionals, what makes them top professionals,” he said.

“Jude has got that with some of the experienced players at his club like Mats Hummels. He can see why he’s a World Cup winner, why he has had the longevity in the game that he has, and he’ll be looking at our senior players and seeing why they’ve hit the level they have.

“He’s very keen to learn and observe in that regard. That is a process all young players go through and that is why it is so important for us to have good senior players as role models.

Gareth Southgate, left, speaks to Jude Bellingham before his international debut against the Republic of Ireland

Gareth Southgate, left, speaks to Jude Bellingham before his international debut against the Republic of Ireland (Carl Recine/PA)

“We can talk to them as coaches but there are lots of things they can pick up training alongside good professionals every day.”

Southgate also claimed Bellingham would be suited to handling the pressure, both on and off the pitch, if he makes the cut for the rescheduled European Championship this summer.

“I’d say further advanced than his football even,” he said.

“I couldn’t be more impressed with him as a human being. His parents have done a fantastic job and should be very proud.

“He’s got humility, good manners, confidence and a lovely way about him. There was a video that the FA released of some personal insights of his and I couldn’t believe some of his interactions with the fans in Birmingham, at the age of 16, 17.

“Not many players have the confidence to go and get the fans going and get them roaring behind the team when they’ve just scored, and I thought that was quite significant in showing the level of his thinking and his comfort in going and putting himself out there to do that.

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“So I’m very, very impressed with him. We’ve got to make sure that we look after him, that we help with that education and help with that development.

“We’ve got to protect him at the right times but he’s going about it in exactly the right manner.”

Another player who has impressed Southgate of late is Manchester United defender Luke Shaw.

The 25-year-old has not been capped since appearing in a Nations League defeat by Spain in September 2018.

But Shaw is enjoying a fine season at Old Trafford and Southgate has been pleased with a player he has known for some time.

Asked about Shaw’s form, Southgate said: “It has been very good.

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“Luke played in the first under-21s game I took charge of, in fact John Stones played right-back.

“There’s never been any doubt in our mind of Luke’s quality. He’s obviously suffered from injuries and had to withdraw from a few squads, but it’s been great to see him playing on the front foot as a full-back both with and without the ball.

“He has been really ambitious with his attacking and I think that is important. He looks physically like he is in good condition to be able to drive forward, he has got excellent quality with the ball and it is a good moment for him.

“I’ve seen somebody who’s just delighted to be here for a start and enjoying his football and playing with confidence.

“I think, first and foremost, Luke’s a good defender and that’s very important for us. We talk a lot about possibilities as an attacking team but we have to keep clean sheets, we have to be difficult to play against.

“I like the fact that he’s aggressive in his defending against his wingers, is difficult to play against one against one, is doing better at cover defending on his centre-backs.

“He doesn’t need to do anything differently to his form in his club with us. He’s just got to find that level and and play his game, and he should feel comfortable doing that.”