Jude Bellingham labelled ‘world’s best’ by England team-mate Declan Rice
Bellingham, 19, was a standout performer for England during their two Nations League fixtures against Italy and Germany.
A 1-0 loss in Milan and a 3-3 Wembley draw with Germany were the final two games before England’s World Cup campaign begins in less than eight weeks.
While manager Gareth Southgate and a number of his players faced stinging criticism as England’s winless run stretched to six games, Bellingham shone in the heart of the side.
The Borussia Dortmund man will now be in a favourable position to start the World Cup opener against Iran and he has certainly done enough to impress Rice.
“He’s 19 but he’s got the body of a 28-year-old, he’s a man,” said the West Ham skipper.
“He thinks like a man, plays like a man and shows personality and character. He’s the future of English football to come for the next 15 years if he wants to be.
I don't think I've seen anyone as good as he is for 19... he's got the whole package
“He is a top lad as well, really pushes you on on the pitch. We push each other on and it’s a privilege to play next to him.
“We’re totally different players and I feel like as a 19-year-old, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone as good as he is for 19.
“I look at a lot of 19-year-olds, whether it’s at a club, around the world, around the country, to have the whole package it’s a hard thing to have and I feel like he’s got that.”
Rice is four years Bellingham’s senior and is now aiming for a lengthy partnership alongside the former Birmingham youngster.
“I’m still only 23 – obviously I’ve been around and played so many more games than he has in my career, but you can just tell, as a 19-year-old, what he brings to the team already, the energy he’s got,” added Rice.
“He can play in a holding role, he can play as an eight, he can play as 10. He can play anywhere in midfield and I know he’s going to be crucial for us.
“Every place is up for grabs but every time I play with Jude we’re building that connection and I say to him, ‘you go and bomb on and do your attacking stuff and I’ll sit here and defend for you’. So we’re getting that good connection, he’s great to play with.
“He’s a man – you can see it when he plays for Dortmund, how he gets around the pitch.
“Even little things, as a 19-year-old you’re scared to talk to the referee but he’s in the referee’s face demanding answers, demanding decisions and he leaves himself on the pitch constantly.”
Rice and Bellingham stood up to be counted as England fought back from two goals behind to lead 3-2 against Germany before ultimately being pegged back.
The commitment from England’s players to drag themselves back into the contest will give Southgate some comfort heading into the World Cup, with Rice insisting it was proof the squad are still behind the manager.
“One hundred per cent,” he replied when asked if the comeback showed the players are backing Southgate.
“I think you see how we fight for him, what we’ve done in the previous tournament under him, we feel like we are building something.
“We’re sticking with a formation that needs work, we’re working on that in training all the time, but you see in the first half we missed some clear-cut chances again but in the second half we scored some great goals and in the end, I think we should have come away with a win.”
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