BECAUSE of his surname, Jobe Bellingham was always going to be the subject of extra attention compared to any other youngster coming through the ranks at a Championship club, yet Birmingham City were always clear in their message.

Jobe wasn't handed his Blues debut when he was just 16 because his brother Jude had achieved a very similar feat.

He was in the Birmingham first team set-up on merit, because he'd impressed in training, because he was clearly ahead of time in terms of talent and development.

Bellingham was 16 years and 107 days when he made his Birmingham debut in an FA Cup tie against Plymouth in January, 2022.

Fast forward 18 months or so and he joins Sunderland with 24 Championship appearances to his name.

In the whole scheme of things, Bellingham is still a raw novice, but compared to most players his age, he's at least a couple of years ahead of schedule.

Birmingham were always sensibly and understandably keen to protect Bellingham from the obvious comparisons.

“It is going to be hard for him because everyone is going to expect him to do what his brother did," said former Birmingham boss Lee Bowyer after including Bellingham on the bench for the first time for a 0-0 draw at Coventry in November, 2021.

"It’s not fair on him, whenever he steps on the pitch now everyone is going to expect him to be like his brother.

“Don’t do that to the lad. He is going to be his own player, himself. We believe he will be good.

“They are different players, you can’t expect him to do the same things as what his brother is doing. He needs to fill out, he needs to get stronger but they are two completely different players.

“He ain’t going to do what his brother did – not now. He is learning the game. Will he become a regular and first team player in a year or two years? We don’t know, it’s how he develops.”

When Bellingham first stepped up to join Birmingham's first team in training, Bowyer told the youngster that he was taking too many touches and getting caught in possession. In a matter of weeks, he'd noticed a big difference.

After his debut, Bowyer told of how Bellingham had "played with a confidence, and that's because he's improving every day."


He continued to improve and Bowyer's replacement John Eustace was instantly impressed.

Eustace, like Bowyer, was cautious to warn against expecting too much too soon.

“There’s a lot of pressure on Jobe because of who his brother is and we have to protect him, and I have to protect him,” he said.

Wise words. And yet Bellingham's performances merited more minutes. Come the end of April, he played 90 minutes for the first time in a 2-0 away defeat at Coventry and did the same again a week and a bit later against Sheffield United.

With his contract due to expire next summer, Birmingham chose to let Bellingham leave now. Sunderland were aware of Bellingham's situation and were in a strong position thanks to some familiar faces.

Sunderland's sporting director Kristjaan Speakman, head of coaching Stuart English and first team coach Mike Dodds all know Bellingham well from their time at Birmingham.

Dodds in particular played a starring role in the progression of Jobe's older brother, Jude - something which Real Madrid's new midfielder has talked about at length in the past.

"A lot of the reason why I play the way that I do is because of him," said Jude after scoring his first England goal.

"I'm very grateful to him for what he's done for me. When I first started working with Mike, he was someone who accepted you for who you were. He never tried to change you and I think that's the most important thing.

"He's done everything for me really. He's developed me as a player and also a person really since I was a kid, and he's moulded the person that I am today."

The opportunity for Jobe to again link up with a coach who the Bellingham family hold in extremely high regard was a major factor behind the decision to choose Sunderland

As was the vision at the Stadium of Light and the faith placed in youngsters. Sunderland's success last season with a team so young and inexperienced turned plenty of heads.

One player who doesn't lack experience is former Middlesbrough captain George Friend. He was a teammate of Bellingham's at Birmingham and was enormously impressed with the midfielder on and off the pitch at St Andrew's.

In conversation with the Echo earlier this season during a trip back to Teesside, talk turned to the Bellingham brothers.

"It’s funny because I was only asking Jobe recently what he’ll be doing because we had a week off for the World Cup break," said Friend.

"He said to me, ‘I’ll be in education’. It brings it home that while many of the lads are jetting off to Dubai and places like that, he couldn’t because he had to study still. Credit to their parents because they’re both really grounded kids.

"They know education is important but their mentality is just different and that’s what makes Jude different and hopefully Jobe can follow. They’re just so switched on and focused, but grounded also."