Like everything in sport right now, Jude Bellingham’s future is on hold.
But the coronavirus pandemic has only delayed what now feels inevitable: that Birmingham City’s most prized asset will be flying the coop.
Bellingham is just 16 and only made his professional debut in August, but his performances for Birmingham have set the scouting world abuzz, prompting some of Europe’s biggest clubs to descend on the Midlands for a closer look at him.
Although his youth means the midfielder is a slight presence on the pitch, he has not been overawed by Championship football and his intelligence has marked him out.
“He can go forward, he can defend, he is very complete and, despite being only 16, he handles the physicality of the midfield very well,” said Birmingham manager Pep Clotet in October.
‘He’s got everything’
Bellingham, who has been watched by scouts “since he was 13 or 14”, according to Clotet, is capable of playing anywhere in midfield but has generally been deployed on the flanks this season for Birmingham, where he has contributed four goals and two assists in the Championship.
“He’s got everything,” Daniel Dodds, the Football Association’s former talent identification manager for England’s under-15s, under-16s and under-17s, told The Athletic. “[He’s] as good as anything I’ve ever seen, comfortably.”
In short, the football world is unanimous in its verdict: Bellingham has everything scouts look for in a promising young player.
Understandably, Birmingham are keen to hang onto Bellingham, but with the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund circling, they are reportedly resigned to losing him.
Bellingham, who broke Trevor Francis’s record to become the Blues’ youngest ever debutant, doesn’t turn 17 until 29 June. He is currently on a reported £145 per week scholars’ contract, which expires in summer 2021, but with options appearing from all angles that expiry date holds little significance.
However, if he is to get a dream move away from the club he has been with since the age of nine, then his youth will play an important role, because the signing of minors is not as straightforward as other transfers.
“A player under the age of 17 cannot enter into a full professional contract of employment with a club and may only be registered as an academy player, typically under a scholarship agreement,” John Shea, a senior associate at law firm Lewis Silkin, tells City A.M.
“While scholarship agreements are not considered to be contracts of employment, it’s still a legal contract with obligations on both the scholar and club.”
Bellingham can’t sign a professional deal until his 17th birthday, which falls right in the middle of what would ordinarily be the summer transfer window. Postponements to the current season caused by the current pandemic could yet affect that.
But if he is still at the club on that date, Birmingham will be allowed to offer him a contract before any other potential suitors. That move would strengthen their hand when it comes to a transfer.
Bellingham does not yet have an agent. His father, Mark, is representing him and, as his guardian, will have to sign any contract at Birmingham or elsewhere.
Manchester United have already shown Bellingham and his family around their Carrington training ground – a trip they would have had to clear with Birmingham first – in a bid to convince him to choose them.
United are reportedly very keen to snap up the young midfielder this summer and, say some reports, may need £30m to land him. That potential expenditure comes in part because such a deal contains so many considerations, as Simon Leaf, a sports lawyer at Mishcon de Reya, explains.
“If he were to move, training compensation would be payable, which is a fixed fee that the buying club would have to pay, based on how many years he’s been there and at what level Birmingham are at,” he tells City A.M.
“There may also be additional amounts based on appearances, as well as a further discretionary amount to compensate Birmingham, which the clubs are expected to try to agree themselves. If it can’t be agreed then there’s a fallback committee who will decide what it is.
“Going forwards there are also solidarity payments that Birmingham and any other clubs that trained him would be entitled to on a potential international transfer up until the age of 24. This would be calculated as a proportion of the relevant transfer fee, capped at five per cent.”
Thanks to Britain’s pending exit from the European Union, United could have an advantage over competitors like Borussia Dortmund come 2021.
“We’re in this Brexit transitional period which may have an impact on him being able to go overseas,” Leaf adds.
“Effectively, [minors] can only be transferred if, separate to the transfer, your parents were moving abroad with you for reasons not linked to football.
“The system isn’t designed for players to move from one country to another. One of the exceptions is movements within the EU and the European Economic Area, which we will no longer be part of come next year when the Brexit transition period comes to an end.”
Bellingham has the world at his feet and its biggest football clubs clamouring for his signature. Unfortunately for Birmingham, his age and the small print will not stand in his way.