OK, let’s get the joke out of the way first, shall we?
‘One Bellingham brother has signed for the biggest club in the world, and the other has joined Real Madrid’.
That one might’ve gained a bit of traction on social media on Wednesday as arguably the most talked-about footballing brothers currently on the scene made moves to their new clubs- one in a transfer that could eventually surpass the £100 million mark, and the other in a deal that’ll be substantially less lucrative but is nonetheless intriguing.
Puns aside, however, the signing of Jobe Bellingham represents another exciting development for Sunderland as we make a second early move in the summer transfer window. Last week, the services of Australian international Nectarios Triantis were secured, and now we’ve stayed a little closer to home for our next addition.
While England international Jude has swapped Dortmund for Madrid in a big-money move, his younger sibling has made the switch from St Andrews to the Stadium of Light. In doing so, he’s become another high-profile example of the faith in youth that’s now the cornerstone of our transfer strategy.
Bellingham’s words when his transfer was confirmed were interesting, as well as being fundamentally accurate, and it felt slightly more significant than the usual ‘new player speaks for the first time and says all the right things’ kind of quote, as well.
Arguably the single most important byproduct of the post-2020 red and white overhaul is that Sunderland is now a club where the career of a young footballer can take flight, as opposed to hitting a roadblock.
Where once young players would’ve been crushed by the burden of expectation, they’re now thriving, and it’s due in no small part to the impressive coaching of Tony Mowbray, who nurtured and guided his young charges to a sixth-place finish last season and will doubtless be aiming for even more in 2023/2024.
In terms of whether this move represents a gamble, it all depends on how you look at it.
Bellingham’s connection with Kristjaan Speakman and Mike Dodds is well known, but I don’t feel that this is a case of a player joining simply on the basis of who he knows or has been associated with at Birmingham. He’s a young lad who wants to progress and in choosing Sunderland, he’s clearly recognised what a fantastic opportunity he’ll be afforded.
In terms of what he’ll add, Bellingham seems to be in the mold of the classically athletic, rangy box-to-box midfielder, and his signing gives us some impressive depth in the engine room.
Being able to call on talents such as Dan Neil and Pierre Ekwah was already a real fillip for Mowbray and with Bellingham on board, it offers even more scope for rotation and tactical shifts when necessary.
Next season is sure to be challenging, but if he makes twenty to twenty five starts, that would be a good return for his first season at Sunderland, and gradual improvement and greater contributions game by game are what both the player and his coaches will be targeting.
If there’s a word of caution to be sounded regarding Bellingham, however, it’s that we need to judge him on his own merits and what he contributes to Sunderland, rather than simply viewing him through the lens of, ‘He’s Jude’s brother and he, therefore, needs to live up to that standard’.
Trying to split some of the most famous footballing siblings - the Charltons, the Laudrups, and the Nevilles, to name three - is a tricky business and the temptation to expect an instant impact from the youngster might be strong, but there’s no doubt that Mowbray will take a longer-term view.
On the other hand, I also think our fans will give Bellingham as much backing and encouragement as he needs, as he settles into his new environment and sets about forging a path of his own in the red and white stripes.
We’ve done it with so many of our most valuable players over the past two years, such as Trai Hume, and this could be another fabulous example of patience eventually paying off.
Welcome to Sunderland, Jobe. This is a great opportunity to play for a club that’s definitely going places, and you’ll be well at home among our crop of exciting and up-and-coming young talents. Give it your best, and good luck!