Pep Guardiola has called the Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham the “whole package” but suggested the player’s development might have been stifled if he had stayed in England.
The 19-year-old scored against Manchester City in their past two meetings with Dortmund, albeit in losing causes, and will be out to cause more problems in their Champions League game on Tuesday.
Bellingham followed the path of Jadon Sancho, who turned down a new City contract to join Dortmund in 2017, when he left his boyhood club Birmingham two years ago. But the decision has paid off handsomely thanks to the club’s policy of promoting youth.
Guardiola, who has meticulously guided Phil Foden’s development at City, suggested Bellingham would not have got the same opportunities in the Premier League. “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.”
Inevitably Erling Haaland’s return to Dortmund has dominated the build-up and City’s Rúben Dias was clear about the challenge the 6ft 5in Norwegian poses.
“When you talk about the relationship between striker and defender it’s all about the margins,” Dias 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 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 he can enjoy a long rest – potentially a frightening thought if he comes back fresher than the defenders he is facing.
“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 knockout 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.”