‘Jude Bellingham is the perfect player – I’d make him in a lab instead of Messi’

Jude Bellingham will be England’s key man at Euro 2024 | Football Digest

Joe Cole believes that if you could create the world’s greatest footballer in a lab, you would build a Jude Bellingham not a Lionel Messi. The former West Ham wonderkid knows exactly what it is like to be viewed under the microscope from an early age, having himself been identified as the future of English football as a teenager having broken through into the Premier League as a 17-year-old.

He went on to win trophies with Chelsea before moving to Liverpool and was capped 56 times for England, but admits that every bright young star hits a point in their development when football stops being quite so easy. Although in his experience, Messi and, so far, Bellingham are the only exceptions to that rule.

“Messi’s 36 and he’s never hit that point – that’s why I compare Bellingham to him,” Cole said. “Football is easy for him. God has blessed him with something but he’s put all the work in, the sacrifices and everything else.

“He’s just the one – I have no problem saying that about him. The only thing that can stop Jude Bellingham is injuries.” Which is where the science kicks in.

Messi’s 5ft 7in frame was ravaged by early growth hormone deficiency and adds to his underdog charm. Bellingham is nearly 12 stone of rippling muscle, just over 6ft 1in in his socks. “If you made a footballer in a lab, you would make Jude Bellingham – he ticks every box,” Cole said.

But according to TNT Sports’ pundit for their exclusive coverage of the UEFA Champions League, Europa League, and Europa Conference League – including Real Madrid’s game against Braga – it is on the mental side that the boffins have really got him wired up right.

“Jude’s the perfect physical specimen to be a footballer, but mentally he’s learned all the lessons, he’s ticked every box, and technically he’s elite as well,” Cole said. “I saw it in the Italy game when we went 1-0 down and you sensed the crowd was starting to turn. It is when you see teams disappear in stadiums.

“But Jude went on a press and it lifted the whole crowd. Then he played a through-ball and it lifted the crowd again. That is why I compared him to Messi. Only a small number of players can do that and I don’t know how he has learned that at the age that he has.

“It is something you have to feel and a lot of players don’t get it. He is just a leader. Then on the flip side of that, he will deal with the pressure because, when I look at him, he is unfazed. I am comfortable comparing him to players like Messi because I know it won’t go to his head. We are so lucky to have him.”

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That said, 20 years ago in Cole’s era, England might not have appreciated Bellingham’s individual talent quite so much. “Remember when I first started playing on the left for England, all the guys who were sitting in your seats were saying: ‘you’ve got to have a left-footer on the side, maybe we should go with Steve Guppy, Alan Thompson.’” Cole recalled.

“Football has changed, evolved. What you do with Jude Bellingham is you allow him the freedom to find the space in a system. Ultimately he makes good decisions more often than not. That’s why he’s the best young player in the world.”

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