Jude Bellingham’s former coach has described him as a “wonderful human being” whose “desire to be the very best” is what puts him ahead.
Mike Dodds worked with the 19-year-old England star at Birmingham City, and has been credited by Bellingham with developing him as a player and person.
Mr Dodds said they enjoyed a “natural connection” and still talked regularly.
He said he was more proud of that relationship than the midfielder’s World Cup performances.
Mr Dodds, now first team coach at Sunderland, said Bellingham, who starred in England’s 3-0 victory over Senegal on Sunday, was clearly talented when he came to Birmingham as a youngster, but so were “most seven-year-olds that come into most academies up and down the country”.
It was the Stourbridge-born boy’s attitude “to whatever he turned his hand to” that set him apart, the coach told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Mr Dodds said it had been reflected in Bellingham’s move to Germany to play for Borussia Dortmund at the age of 17.
“He probably could have made easier decisions in terms of his lifestyle and his family,” Mr Dodds said, “but he wanted to make a footballing decision; what was best for his career and what he thought was the next step for him.”
During the last-16 match against Senegal, Bellingham became the youngest ever player to be credited with an assist in a World Cup knock-out game.
The record-setting performance led England teammate Phil Foden to make a bold prediction about the 19-year-old’s future.
“I don’t want to big him up too much because he is still young, but he’s one of the most gifted players I have ever seen,” Foden, 22, told ITV.
The teenager was one of England’s best players against the current African champions and played a pivotal role as the Three Lions reached the last eight at consecutive World Cup tournaments for the first time since 2006.
In recent weeks, Bellingham’s maturity in interviews has impressed football analysts as much as his on-field prowess, with some expressing surprise he is still a teenager.
Bellingham has previously praised his former coach Mr Dodds for his demeanour, saying: “He’s developed me as a player and also a person, really since I was a kid. He’s moulded the person I am today. A lot of the reason I play the way I do is because of him.”
Mr Dodds said the pair clicked because they had similar personalities and knew when to work hard and when to have a laugh together.
“I just think it was authentic,” he said.
Mr Dodds said his advice to anyone who worked with Bellingham, including national coach Gareth Southgate, was always to be direct with him.
“He always wants honesty and he wants transparency, it has to be straight to the point and authentic and whether he liked the conversation or not he would process it,” he explained.
Mr Dodds described Bellingham, who scored England’s first goal at the Qatar World Cup, as a “wonderful human being” and added: “I think the nice thing is we don’t really talk about football now, we talk about normal life stuff.”
Mr Dodds said he was often asked about his former player’s performances, but would reply: “I think I’m probably more proud of the fact that we have a relationship that transcends beyond the football pitch.”
He said Bellingham was still in touch with people associated with Birmingham City and added: “There’s been loads of people that have helped him on the grass and off the grass.”
As a young boy, Bellingham played for Stourbridge Juniors which was set up by his father, former non-league player Mark Bellingham, now a retired police officer, and Phil Wooldridge.
“It took a while, it wasn’t just overnight, it was a matter of a few months,” he said.
Bellingham’s former head teacher, Vanessa Payne, said last month that as a 10-year-old he wrote he wanted to play football for England when he grew up.
“Even then he had the aspiration to take his skill somewhere,” Mrs Payne, of Hagley Primary School, near Stourbridge, said.
“He’s left a legacy here of sportsmanship and ambition and trying to be the best you can be.”
She told BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester the footballer, who was in class 6T before he left, “stood out for us all those years ago”.
“He was kind, he was thoughtful and he was a good sport – and he was just somebody people wanted to be around,” she said.
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