The other Bellingham – ‘I don’t think anyone will truly understand what it is like to be Jobe’

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The other Bellingham – ‘I don’t think anyone will truly understand what it is like to be Jobe’

On the final whistle, Jobe Bellingham collapsed to the turf, lay flat on his back and breathed heavily. Spent, frustrated and beaten, Sunderland’s No 7 had a most disappointing Saturday.

On the final whistle, Jude Bellingham was mobbed by his Real Madrid team-mates, his winning smile reflecting his winning role in a dramatic Clasico. Having scored the 91st-minute goal to secure victory, Real’s No 5 had a most entertaining Sunday.

Comparing Sunderland’s 1-0 home defeat against relegation-threatened Millwall with Real Madrid’s 3-2 victory over Barcelona could seem like a leap, but two games over 24 hours were bridged by the Bellingham brothers.

Jude, the elder, is having a ravishing first season in Madrid. Jobe, the younger, is doing pretty well at Sunderland, too.

For reasons of celebrity — and space — Jude is referred to in newspaper headlines by his forename (‘Jude pone el broche a La Liga’ was Marca’s on Monday morning), but the surname Bellingham is on his back. Jobe is often referred to as Bellingham at Sunderland but has the name Jobe on his jersey and when the tannoy announces the team at the Stadium of Light, he is ‘Jobe’.

Jobe Bellingham

(Ben Roberts Photo/Getty Images)

As he picked himself up off the grass following a spectacularly drab game that even interim head coach Mike Dodds called “boring”, Jobe may have noted the contrast with the previous match he had been at — Real’s shootout epic at Manchester City in the Champions League in which his brother scored a decisive penalty.

Still, he got up and walked around applauding those who remained in a near-deserted ground. Some clapped back, but there is anger building among Sunderland fans at what they see as a season wasted after the attacking promise of the previous campaign. They have scored twice in five games and started with a back five at home.

Jobe was stationed in front of the middle three, hoping to break forward, for 45 minutes. In the second half, he was up front, leading the line. Such was Sunderland’s lack of creativity, he barely got a touch, never mind a chance to score.

But a 45th appearance of the season had been completed, an impressive tally when you consider a measurement even more significant than the idiosyncrasy of his surname — Bellingham was 17 when the season began.

He made his debut in January 2022 for Birmingham when he was 16 years and 107 days. He was the club’s second-youngest-ever player — only Jude had been younger. By the end of last season, Jobe had racked up 26 appearances for them; it gives the impression of experience, and it is experience, but only two were for 90 minutes.

It is why Dodds described Bellingham last week as “a second-year scholar”, who will not be a first-year professional until next season.

“I have to bring it back to that,” Dodds explained. “There’s so much scrutiny around Jobe if he doesn’t play well. It’s unfair because he’s just so young and I don’t think people appreciate how good he is for his age.

“Because of his second name and the comparison, sometimes the over-analysing of him is unfair. Those are the cards he’s been dealt and he’s got to get on with it. I’ve had that conversation with him.

“Jobe’s scored seven goals, which for a second-year scholar, is unbelievable. He should be playing youth team football.”

Although Dodds is familiar to Jobe and to the Bellinghams — Dodds coached Jobe aged eight in Birmingham City’s academy — he reminded us that not only is Jobe in his first season away from his Midlands roots, Dodds is the third dressing-room managerial voice he has heard.

Tony Mowbray and Michael Beale were the others and as Dodds said, all three have selected Bellingham, who has been played in various positions.

Put these circumstances together and the boy who turned 18 in late September has been impactful and exciting — but also inconsistent, understandably so at his age.

At Southampton last month, for example, Bellingham received national attention for a beautiful swerving shot that swept into the top corner from 20 yards. He was praised for that locally as well, it’s just fans who follow every game also saw his error for Southampton’s opener.

Bellingham took to social media to apologise, which was unnecessary but a sign of the world teenagers inhabit.

At Sunderland, Jobe is part of a policy that saw the starting XI at Southampton become the youngest in the club’s 145-year history — 21 years and three days.

The pronounced emphasis on youth under the owners has been beneficial for Bellingham — and partly explains his £2million transfer from Birmingham at the end of last season — but there have been drawbacks on the pitch when experience has been so obviously missed. And as with the No 5 at Real Madrid stepping unforeseen into the No 9 role in the absence of Karim Benzema, Jobe has been ushered up front at a club who have been unwilling to spend seriously on a centre-forward to replace Ross Stewart.


Jude (centre left) and Jobe Bellingham with their parents, Denise and Mark, in 2021 (David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

Jobe’s versatility has been notable and, in the long run, educational. Asked recently about his positional preference, he said: “At the minute I’m just learning because I have no idea what position I am.

“I suppose it’s quite exciting in a way because I’ll find out as the years go on. It’s up to the coaches to figure out where my attributes fit the team best and I’m not arsed where I play really. As long as I am in red and white, that’s fine.”

Sunderland fans will like the last bit of that answer in particular and hearing Dodds say “he’s fallen in love with the fans, with the area — he’s so happy with the decision he made last summer” will appeal.

“It’s a perfect club at the perfect time for him. This part of the world will be forever in his heart. He’s completely in love and the Sunderland fans have been unbelievable with him.”

But the Jobe comparison in their collective consciousness is not with his brother, rather with his colleague Dan Neil. They saw Neil come through their academy, hit the ground running, then tire, and many were pleading for a rest before Neil got one.

On Saturday, the latest edition of the long-running fanzine A Love Supreme, on sale outside the ground, had a feature called ‘Hey Young Sunderland’. It reads: “Speaking of players who have needed a break, Jobe Bellingham was in the engine room alongside Dan. The 18-year-old has been almost ever-present in our team this season and everyone but the coaching staff is aware that he’s been absolutely run into the ground.”

It then asked: “Is he playing because of his surname?”

Sunderland will refute that and point out that Jobe has been withdrawn from England’s age-group call-up to get a rest. The Bellinghams may feel bemused — mother Denise lives with Jude in Madrid and father Mark with Jobe in Sunderland. They may feel their younger son somehow lives simultaneously in the shade and under a spotlight. Then again, even at 20, Jude has experienced some negative coverage in Madrid.

As with all ‘name’ players, praise and criticism tend to be excessive and Dodds said: “Jobe’s life is difficult anyway.

“I don’t think anyone will truly understand what it is like to be Jobe. If he goes anywhere in the world, he’s Jude’s brother, he’s not Jobe.

“Him having his own identity is something he desperately craves. As he gets older and gets more accolades and he does wonderful things in football, he’ll be appreciated for who he is.

“He obviously changed the name on the back of his shirt, so he’s desperately fighting to be recognised for him. It’s always going to be a battle for him, that’s the reality.”

Dodds said the Sunderland squad have helped Jobe settle “really quickly” and they “don’t discuss the brother stuff with him at all”.

And at Sunderland, they are concerned with Sunderland. Jude turning up in a club scarf at Hull City to support his younger sibling is cheered on, but on Wearside, if nowhere else on planet football, it is Jude who is the ‘other’ Bellingham.

And Jobe, everyone needs to remember, was 17 when the season began, a second-year scholar.

(Top photo: MI News/NurPhoto)