Birmingham City’s teenage superstar Jude Bellingham is destined for a future at the very top of the game, according to a coach who worked with him for four years.
The 16-year-old has been a sensation in the Championship this season and the Midlands club are braced for a frenzied bidding war when the summer transfer window opens.
A host of Europe’s elite clubs are interested in signing the midfielder, who has scored four goals in 32 games.
Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund are among the sides expected to table multi-million pound offers for him, and his former coach Sam Manoochehri has no qualms about his former student adapting to grander surroundings.
“I’ve got no doubt in my mind that Jude will play in the Champions League and he will represent England at senior level,” the ex-youth development coach at Birmingham told the Mirror.
“Man Utd, it might be a nice fit for Jude, with a rejuvenated team, and talk of Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish going over there. But Dortmund would also suit. The recent profile of players that have come through that system, the likes of Jadon Sancho. Jude would fit that mould, too.
“And look at what’s going on at Chelsea now. A lot of good young players in that team.”
Remembering training sessions and matches with Bellingham, the coach revealed that the England youth international had always showcased his immense ability.
“Anywhere Jude goes, he will be a success, based purely on his mentality. I have never seen a mentality more elite than this,” he added. “When I worked with him, when something was tough, he loved it.
“I can remember games when he wanted to play centre-half to test himself. Now if you say to most young midfielders or attackers, ‘by the way you’re playing centre-half today’, they probably wouldn’t be best pleased with it.
“But Jude would actively go and seek the challenge without having to be pushed from the coaching staff. All we did was provide an environment in which he could go and stretch himself.
“I can remember one training session in particular where after about 20 minutes, I asked him: ‘are you using your other foot?’. He replied: ‘Yeah, I am just going to play on my left foot today’ and that was without any prompts.
“That is his unique ability. He loves a challenge, loves developing and learning, and being pushed out of his comfort zone.”
Should Bellingham - who doesn’t turn 17 until the end of June - not be guaranteed first-team football from potential suitors, Manoochehri says that the teenage prodigy shouldn’t have concerns about spending another season at St Andrews.
He continued: “Jude has got to make sure that his next move is to a club where he plays. If not, I don’t think there is any problem with him staying at Birmingham.
“He’s got to where he is at the minute by coming through the whole Birmingham City program, so there should be no rush to move on. But look at the England team now. Look at the last World Cup: where did they all come from? A lot of them came from the Championship.
“Other than Harry Kane at Tottenham, or Marcus Rashford at Manchester United, the rest of the team started at lower league clubs. Harry Maquire was at Sheffield United, John Stones at Barnsley, Dele Alli, from MK Dons, Jordan Pickford came from Sunderland, to name a few.
“They were all given an opportunity to be a regular in the first team before moving onto bigger and better things.”