Kane and Bellingham’s Show-stealing Potential

Kane and Bellingham’s Show-stealing Potential

It turns out that, as well as winning the Champions League in his first season at Real Madrid, and winning La Liga and being named the best player in Spanish football, all before celebrating his 21st birthday on Saturday, Jude Bellingham can bowl a bit.

England’s footballers have been warming up for training by playing cricket, in a neat inversion of the fact that England’s cricketers used to warm up for training by playing football until things got too competitive and the tackles got a bit too tasty.

Harry Kane, England’s captain, smiled when he talked about the current pre-training routine and how Aaron Ramsdale, a decent batsman, was irritated because the FA’s social media team had only posted footage of him being dismissed.

‘Jude was coming in today, rifling some balls in,’ Kane said, ‘so a few of the lads have got a bit, to be fair. It’s been good fun.’

The Bellingham bulletin was a welcome piece of news even if England are not playing Slovakia at cricket in their round-of-16 tie in Gelsenkirchen on Sunday. It suggests that, after an unusually lethargic performance against Slovenia in Cologne, England’s wonderkid is raring to go again.

Harry Kane has been discussing Jude Bellingham (pictured) ahead of England’s last-16 clash

Kane spoke highly of Bellingham's cricket skills after Three Lions stars enjoyed a game

Kane spoke highly of Bellingham’s cricket skills after Three Lions stars enjoyed a game

Kane offered words of reassurance about him, too. Bellingham’s new, advanced role with England has brought him into the same positional areas as the England captain, who often drops deep to receive the ball, and there is concern that England’s two best players have not yet found a way to work together.

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In the goalless draw with Slovenia, Kane and Bellingham only exchanged one pass. It came in the 53rd minute when Bellingham pushed a short ball to Kane for him to cross from the left. In the previous match against Denmark, they also exchanged the princely sum of one pass. That time, Kane laid the ball off to Bellingham.

Before England left their base in rural Thuringia to travel to Gelsenkirchen yesterday, Kane was asked if he had talked to Bellingham about the issue and the apparent absence of on-field chemistry between the two players.

Kane played a forward defensive to that but he was happy to talk about the way he feels their partnership will get better as they get used to Bellingham’s role behind the front man. Kane’s message, basically, was: Don’t worry about Jude.

‘From a captain’s point of view, I am always talking to all of the players,’ Kane said, ‘and, with Jude, we are always talking about how we can improve. We watched clips of the Denmark game to see how we can play better.

‘We would have liked to have played better and had more of a connection but I still feel like the movements are there. We’re moving really well and I thought it was a lot better than the first two games.

‘The relationship is still fairly new. Even though we have played a bit together there’s still things we can both do better. We’re hoping that as the tournament goes on, we grow more and more. From Jude’s point of view, he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing.

‘In tournament football, a lot of things are accelerated really quickly. In the first game, he was the best player and man of the match and in the last couple of games none of us have reached the level we really wanted .

‘It’s two games. It isn’t the end of the world. I know things are being heightened and there will be a lot of talk, but that’s part and parcel of playing for England in a major tournament. Jude has dealt with that unbelievably well for his age. He’s dealt really well with going to Real Madrid for his age.

‘So there’s no worries about Jude. He’s a great guy, he believes in himself 100 per cent and from both of our points of view, we want to go out there tomorrow and start stepping up our levels.’

Bellingham remains England's most dangerous player if he can play his best football for his side in Germany

Bellingham remains England’s most dangerous player if he can play his best football for his side in Germany

The midfielder will, however, have to get back to the form that he showed in a stellar debut season with Real Madrid

The midfielder will, however, have to get back to the form that he showed in a stellar debut season with Real Madrid

Bellingham remains the most dangerous player in England’s armoury if he can get back to the form he showed for Madrid for much of last season. It is sobering to remember just how much he achieved before he turned 21 at the England base on Saturday.

The other players serenaded him with a rendition of Happy Birthday before they went out to training and Southgate will be hoping that Bellingham’s reaching of the official age of maturity will signal an ability to step up again against the Slovaks.

Bellingham began the tournament like a train. He pretty much won England’s opening game against Serbia by himself, scoring the winner with a brilliantly brave header.

Kane scored the only other goal in England’s European Championship campaign, a close-range effort against Denmark.

‘We got into better areas against Slovenia,’ Kane said, ‘and just lacked that killer instinct in the box, or with the cross or the pass. Tomorrow will be a little different but ultimately it is about just having that discipline in your positions, being in the areas where we are patient enough and can hurt them.

‘I feel we’ve been ruthless on the defensive side, in terms of blocks and blocking crosses and winning balls and now it’s down to me, the attacking players and maybe the midfielders to be a bit more ruthless in the final third of the pitch.’

That ruthlessness, of course, may extend to having to be clinical from the spot in a penalty shootout now that England have reached the knockout stages. England have expert penalty-takers in the squad in Cole Palmer and Ivan Toney, should they be needed, and Kane remains England’s first-choice taker.

Kane joked that he had not been thinking of his penalty miss against France at the 2022 World Cup

Kane joked that he had not been thinking of his penalty miss against France at the 2022 World Cup

‘It’s probably the most experienced group of takers we have had,’ Kane said. ‘I have a technique I have always used and I don’t change that.

‘I go through the process, I look at the keeper and go through what penalty is going to be the best in that situation. Then I execute to the best of my ability on the day.’

He was asked if he still thought about the penalty he missed against France in the World Cup quarter- final in Qatar.

Kane pulled a comedy grimace. ‘I wasn’t thinking about it until now,’ he said.

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