Express & Star

Stourbridge's Jude Bellingham ‘the best in world’ Australia star

Australia midfielder Jackson Irvine says Jude Bellingham’s ability aged 16 “did not compute” when the pair met in the Championship four years ago.

Last updated

Irvine’s former side Hull ran out 3-0 winners against Birmingham in December 2019 in what was the England midfielder’s debut professional season, and his only first-team campaign at St Andrew’s before departing for Borussia Dortmund.

The two will face each other again at Wembley tomorrow in the colours of their national teams, and the St Pauli captain – who also played for Burton as well as a clutch of sides in Scotland – believes Bellingham may already have established himself as the best player in the world since moving to Real Madrid.

The Stourbridge-born 20-year-old has scored 10 goals in his first 10 games for Real, earning comparisons with some of the club’s most celebrated former players as they top the early LaLiga table.

“There’s probably not a hotter player in the world,” he said.

“It’s been incredible to watch. I played against him in the Championship when he was at Birmingham, and in the Pokal (German Cup) with St Pauli. “To see a player of that age making a mark at that level, there’s nothing left to say. He’s arguably the best player in the world.

“The first time I played against him he was 16. It didn’t make sense. It doesn’t compute in your brain that a player can play like that at that age.

“The whole world has watched him and he seems to be taking it in his stride. That’s a testament to his character, to do it at the biggest club in the world.”

The visitors’ squad for the games against England and New Zealand is a mix of home-based players and exports to second-tier clubs and less prestigious leagues in Europe.

Irvine is beginning his third season at German 2.Bundesliga side St Pauli after joining from Hibernian in 2021, and has captained them to an unbeaten start which sees them lead the table.

Yet he insisted that Graham Arnold’s side, who reached the last 16 of last year’s World Cup in Qatar, is more about the collective than individual stars.

“The development of the game in the last 20 years has been quite dramatic across world football, not just in Australia,” he said.

“In 2006 (when the team reached the World Cup last 16 in Germany) we had players playing in the Premier League. We didn’t have that in Qatar yet we performed equally well.

“International football is an interesting dynamic now. It’s less important where players play their domestic football. It’s more about the dynamic of the team. We’ve shown we’re capable of competing at this level despite not having players that play at Premier League level.”

Irvine added that after tomorrow, he hopes to be facing Harry Kane again in the Bundesliga next season following the England captain’s move to Bayern Munich.

“He’s the best centre-forward in the world so it was going to be a huge moment for whichever team he went to,” he said.

“For Bayern, it was a massive moment after losing (Robert) Lewandowski, to fill that hole. It was huge news in Germany.”