Jude Bellingham has opened up about Birmingham City’s decision to retire the number 22 shirt following his departure in 2020 – and it makes for an interesting read.
The Stourbridge-born midfielder, who made his senior debut for boyhood club Birmingham in August 2019, aged 16 years and 38 days, played just 44 times for the Blues.
So when they announced plans to retire his number 22 shirt following Bellingham’s £22.75 million move to Borussia Dortmund, many scoffed at the move.
Bellingham has since gone on to become of the world’s best midfielders, with his start to life in Spain at La Liga giants Real Madrid highlighting his immense talent.
But what did he really think of Birmingham’s decision to retire the number 22? Well, the England international has made his feelings clear in a recent interview with French publicationL’Equipe.
Speaking after his Kopa Trophy win on Monday night, Bellingham said: “They told me ‘no one will take it until you get back to Birmingham’. I was like [shocked face] ‘Really?’ I had a good year (2019/2020), but it was nothing extraordinary.
“I looked around me. ‘But wait, are we allowed to do that?’ But I understand the position and the decision. My transfer saved the club, which was in a difficult situation.”
Rather interestingly, Bellingham admitted he didn’t initially like football growing up.
“At the beginning I didn’t like football at all,” he said. “The truth is that it’s crazy to say today that if someone took this away from me I would go crazy.
“When I was a kid I used to go to training sessions and I used to pick the grass, the flowers, I used to make necklaces with the daisies to give them to my mother who was outside the field watching me.
“It was like that, really, and the best part of this whole story is that it’s probably the reason why I ended up getting involved in soccer in the end.
“My dad would take me to practice and tell me if you want to play tag, play catch or go pick flowers.”
He added: “My parents never forced me to do anything in that sense as long as I behaved well and helped others. I guess the world to me was the playground and they still remind me of that today.”
Bellingham also opened up about his admiration for former Birmingham pair Lee Bowyer and Craig Gardner, as well as Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard.
“I admired the Birmingham players, the team that won the League Cup at Wembley (2-1 against Arsenal in 2011). My heroes were Seb Larsson, Craig Gardner and Lee Bowyer,” he added.
“As I got more into it, dad was the most important. Later, my first models were Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, simply because they played in England.
“And then when you grow up, you start watching football. My father had a fake Zidane shirt that he had bought on the beach. He took it everywhere, often at home. One day I asked him: ‘By the way, who is that guy?’ He said, ‘Go on YouTube and check it out.’
“Since then, I probably haven’t stopped. Zidane was the player I wanted to be. I was lucky enough to meet him during the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool (1-0, in 2022). I was like a child, with wide eyes. He is so humble for someone who has accomplished so much.
“He gave off a great presence. And, according to the guys who played with him here, he was a great coach. That is just as important.”