Jude Bellingham to face best friend Gio Reyna in England-USA battle
From Birmingham to Borussia Dortmund, it has been an incredible couple of years for Jude Bellingham. Now the boy from Stourbridge is taking centre stage at the World Cup and even though it is increasingly difficult to remember the rangy midfielder is still a teenager, few are surprised he has already made an imprint in Qatar.
“I watched every game last year and it was an evolution, he would learn little things game by game and start to develop and get better,” says Gio Reyna, his best friend at Dortmund who has witnessed Bellingham’s development at close quarters, paying particular interest when sidelined through injury last season. “It is awesome to see. We have both had our struggles at times but to see him and the role he has taken in our team, it is great.”
Only on Friday, when England do battle with the USA, the pair will be on opposing sides. Bellingham, who opened the scoring against Iran, is certain to keep his place and Reyna could make his first appearance at the finals. “He has been really great with me over the past year. He has been the one reaching out the most and making sure things are all good. When the group [for the World Cup] was announced we were the first ones to text each other, probably 30 seconds after we found out. We have been talking some ‘smack’, but I love him. We sit next to each other on the bus, and when we fly we normally sit very close. It is just a really good relationship. We really feed off each other on and off the field. He is a really good player and we will both be ready to battle.”
Reyna is not the only member of the USA squad with links to England. The Leeds pair of Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson, plus Christian Pulisic of Chelsea, are three of seven USA players contracted to English clubs. Cameron Carter-Vickers, now of Celtic, began his career in earnest at Tottenham aged 11 and Yunus Musah, who was born in New York to Ghanaian parents but moved to England from Italy aged nine, started across north London at Arsenal, where he played alongside Bukayo Saka, and with Bellingham for England’s youth teams, which he captained at under-15s, -16s and -17s. “To share a field with them will be very special,” Musah says.
Eligible to play for Ghana, Italy and the USA, Musah made 32 appearances up to and including under-18 level for England. He recalls a talk from Gareth Southgate. “It was great to have the England manager speak to you,” Musah says. “I was hoping that one day I would be selected by him.” How did he come to pin his colours to the USA last year, then? “With England I had a great time, I had nothing to complain about. I had an amazing time, great coaches, a great experience and it got to the time where I had to make a decision for my professional career and I was at that young age. I had an opportunity to play with a great team in the US and on that camp I just had a great feeling.”
Musah joined Valencia in 2019 after seven years at Arsenal, where he was coached by Greg Lincoln, now of the Football Association, and Freddie Ljungberg. “He really helped me out as well with details,” Musah says of Ljungberg. “We were on tour in Germany and one day he got us to watch the Invincibles movie [about Arsenal’s unbeaten season when they won the Premier League in 2003-04] and it was incredible to see what they achieved and the talented players they had. It was inspiring. I was like: ‘One day I would like to do that as well.’”
Musah’s Ghanaian parents still live in east London but are in Qatar for the tournament. Since being in Doha, Musah, a Muslim, has been able to practise his faith. “I am enjoying it. I was out at a shopping centre and it was time to pray and I was able to go across the road to the mosque opposite the shopping centre to pray,” Musah says. “It’s not nice when you have to be waiting a long time to pray.”
There was a moment six minutes before half-time in England’s victory over Iran when Bellingham’s desire to keep the ball in play led him off the pitch for a split-second before head-butting the corner flag in frustration as he eventually admitted defeat.
In fairness, at the moment it feels as though the 19-year-old is in such a good spot he is capable of the impossible. “What separates him is his ability to be able to do everything,” Reyna says. “There aren’t many things you can point at that he cannot do. He is a competitor. He can do everything. [If you] ask him to play left wing or left-back, he could probably do both.” Even in goal? “Yeah,” Reyna smiles.