Predicting which football club would best fit Jude Bellingham next season
It would be quicker to name the teams across Europe that would not be interested in signing Jude Bellingham in the summer.
In truth, you would have a hard time finding someone.
Bellingham is currently one of the most desirable midfielders in world football and has earned the right to pick his next career target – should Dortmund allow him to leave Signal Iduna Park in the summer.
At just 19, the fact that we hardly need convincing of Bellingham’s career path just goes to show how talented he is. the athlete has previously analyzed Bellingham’s game profile with a data and tactics spin – describe the teenager as incredibly versatile in his gaming profile. This is particularly notable when you compare him to his peers across Europe this season.
No midfielder ranks higher than Bellingham’s 16.7 progressive passes per 100 touches, underscoring how often he tries to get the ball forward.
Meanwhile, Bellingham’s (possession-adjusted) 5.6 tackles and interceptions per 90 places him in the top five percent of his peers — highlighting his defensive work rate — with an attacking contribution of 0.35 expected goals (xG) plus expected assists (xA) per 90 in the top 12 percent of midfielders across Europe.
Combine these traits and we can imagine just how versatile Bellingham’s skillset is.
Especially since Edin Terzic has rotated between a 4-2-3-1, a 4-3-3 and a 4-1-4-1 system in Dortmund this season, Bellingham has shown his versatility to play as No.4, No.8 and No.10 – a “Jew of all trades”, if you will.
Of course, there are many of Bellingham’s attributes that you just can’t quantify in the data. Tight control in tight areas. A tendency to slide past his opponent and nod the ball forward to continue a flowing movement.
An uncanny ability to hack back and switch feet in the final third – a skill he’s clearly developed in the academy courts.
Rather than looking back at the highlights of Bellingham’s undisputed talent, let’s look ahead.
With Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City chasing Bellingham’s signature – in theory – each of them would no doubt argue that Bellingham would be a good fit for their club.
But what would suit Bellingham best from a neutral perspective?
To answer this, let’s hit the data button again…
Data is becoming increasingly important within professional clubs, but more advanced modeling can provide predictive power in the decision-making process, as Dr. Ryan Beal, CEO and co-founder of sentientsports, declares to the athlete.
“Traditional sports analysis has long focused on backward-looking analysis, which relies solely on analyzing a player’s past performance to assess their potential future performance,” says Beal. “These methods have been successful in identifying talent, but they don’t always predict a player’s success in a new team or new league.
“We have developed advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technology that focuses on predictive analytics to simulate a player’s performance after changing clubs. This allows us to assess a player’s potential fit into a new team and the likelihood of his success.”
Think of the times when you were sure that the exciting talent you’d been eyeing for months would come to your team, only to find that when they arrived they just didn’t reach the heights you expected them to . Does that make her a bad player? No. Can it cause them to be a poor fit? Yes.
Timo Werner, we’re looking at you.
“Not every good player fits every team, and team dynamics and culture play a crucial role in success,” says Beal. “Our AI technology helps teams reduce the risk of making a bad decision by objectively simulating many different potential outcomes.”
With that in mind, let’s assess how Bellingham’s profile might fit in with elite European contenders.
But first the nerdy stuff to outline the methodology.
SentientSports simulates a player’s suitability based on two criteria.
- Chemistry Prediction – this predicts how well a player will fit in with their new teammates on and off the field. This is based on an analysis that calculates how well the current players work together on the pitch based on their connection to their team’s attack. The analysis then trains a “neural network”, which predicts how well players will develop relationships after a transfer. Characteristics such as play style, skill, languages spoken, age and games played together are used.
- Tactical Suitability Prediction – this predicts how well suited a player is to a team’s playstyle and tactics by looking at three different areas. The player’s current team play style and formations are compared to the form and game profile of future teams. In addition, ‘positional use’ assesses how often the player has played in a position used by the potential team – for example the role of a central midfielder in a 4-4-2 versus a 4-3-3.
Collectively, a rating of 0-100 is provided for each criterion to reflect a player’s overall suitability, with the AI techniques providing automated explanations of the results provided using generative AI techniques.
Balancing both metrics in the simulation, Liverpool, PSG and Barcelona are among the clubs that best fit Bellingham’s profile. A move to France is unlikely and Barcelona’s finances remain in turmoil, so let’s start with Liverpool.
The SentientSports report suggests that Bellingham would need to adapt to Jurgen Klopp’s tactical setup based on frequent counter-pressing style, more positional rotations and a greater focus on the width of full-backs with higher cross volume. Dortmund’s style of transition under Terzic would be an advantage for Bellingham at Liverpool, with their usually devastating ability to punish opponents when they’re not in their defensive structure.
His relationship with England teammates Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson is factored into the model, with Bellingham also having played with Curtis Jones and Rhys Williams in the international setup.
A return to England is understandably forecast to be the smoothest transition for the 19-year-old.
Then why not Manchester City or Manchester United?
For United, Bellingham’s familiarity with a 4-2-3-1 system is an asset, but SentientSports outlines the change required of the teenager to become more disciplined in his defensive duties within a more positionally structured formation.
Where Liverpool’s counter-pressing style could play to its strengths, United’s style could require more adaptation to a new role.
For City, an environment full of familiar faces from international duty would be a notable asset – having been named in squads 254 times alongside seven members of that team – but given Manchester City’s more possession-based approach, Bellingham would need to adjust his profile to take a more considered build-up Pep Guardiola based on ball retention.
Although a different position, it would be a similar process that Jack Grealish, a West Midland compatriot, had to undertake in order to understand Guardiola’s demands within such a specific system.
Finally on Real Madrid, who have had informal and positive discussions with Bellingham’s camp, which is run by his father Mark. According to SentientSports predictions, Bellingham should be able to adapt to Real Madrid’s tactical style without too much difficulty after showing he is comfortable in a 4-3-3 formation with strengths on the counterattack.
However, the model accounts for the limitations of the language barrier, as Bellingham has fewer opportunities to converse in English in the Spanish capital. As Bellingham had not previously played with any of the current squads, an adjustment period would be required if Bellingham were to join the current European champions.
Of course, such forward-looking statements are highly valued, but Beal stresses the importance of using the information as a tool, not a crutch.
“We recognize the importance of human subjective intelligence in decision-making in sport,” says Beal. “Our technology works best in combination with human expertise and intuition to enable more efficient and informed decision making. By integrating AI into the decision-making process, teams can streamline their scouting and recruiting processes, saving time and resources and ultimately increasing their chances of success.”
Aside from his undeniable talent, the clichéd phrase “The best skill is availability” is also true of Bellingham – especially in such a physically demanding position in midfield.
No teenager has amassed more minutes in Europe’s top five leagues since the start of the 2021/22 season than Bellingham.
Within the Dortmund squad, only central defender Nico Schlotterbeck has more minutes Bellingham in all competitions this season.
There are already many kilometers in these legs.
At just 19, you can look at it from two perspectives. The first is that Bellingham’s rapid physical development is underpinned by his toughness, which almost always makes himself available for selection.
However, a pessimistic view would be that due diligence might be required on the part of a manager. Although the positions played are wildly different, should we learn from a former English prodigy?
Bellingham (17 years and 136 days) usurped Michael Owen’s international record (18 years and 183 days) during Euro 2020, becoming the youngest England player to play in a major tournament – the first player to do so before his 18 years of age did.
Much like Bellingham, Owen’s rise to the highest level was as steep as it gets, and heralded himself onto the world stage at 18. Too much playing time during his teenage years was ultimately his Achilles’ heel in his career – or rather, his Achilles tendon.
A serious muscle injury at the age of 19 was the trigger for a number of subsequent injuries throughout his career. and Owen’s powers were arguably on a downward trend by age 26. He retired at the age of 33.
The same cannot be said for Bellingham, of course, where his skills rely less on explosive pace and power.
However, at a time when FIFPRO, the sport’s global players’ union, was outlining the implications of frequent gaming contact for players’ well-beingthis is a crucial factor that the coaching staff needs to be aware of.
The message is simple. Whoever lands him, please take care of him.
He’s a generational talent and has earned the right to choose his next target.
(Photo above: Alex Pantling – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)