Pep says Blues will handle Jude with care

Jude Bellingham in action at Charlton Athletic
Jude Bellingham in action at Charlton Athletic

Pep Clotet insists that Blues will do what's right for Jude Bellingham.

The 16-year-old has made a stunning impact at first team level.

On his first league start, at Charlton Athletic, he scored the winning goal - for the second match in succession.

Bellingham, who became Blues youngest ever player, beating Trevor Francis' mark, when selected for the Carabao Cup tie at Portsmouth last month, captained England Under-17s to tournament success in Poland during the international break for good measure.

Naturally, he is attracting headlines and attention countrywide now and Clotet says Blues will protect him and manage sensibly the expectations and exertions placed on such young shoulders.

Clotet was asked post-Charlton was it impossible to leave Bellingham out of the side now.

"No, it's possible," said the Head Coach. "We all need to remember I have a duty (of care), the Club does.

"As I said after the last time against Stoke, I know the fans want me to play him always.

"I took a bit of a risk to play him.

"He played three games for England, plus the game against Stoke, in the past couple of weeks. He had a little bit of cramp towards the end at Charlton.

"But he was the perfect player for that role and position we wanted on Saturday. So I took that risk.

"He handles the load of the games and the training different to the (senior) pros because his body still does not have the experience when it comes to that.

"I will use him for the best of his abilities and for the best of Birmingham City, but I will always try to handle the risk because he is a talent for us and that's the right thing to do."

As Fran Villalba was ruled out of the Charlton trip due to a tight groin, with Jefferson Montero sidelined and Jacques Maghoma returning the fray after injury as substitute at the Valley, Bellingham was Clotet's choice to start wide on the left, as a 'narrow' winger.

Bellingham came on against Stoke for Montero in the 29th minute and was used wide right. Neither is his natural position, so it's all the more to his credit that he interpreted both assignments with such intelligence allied to ability, meeting both offensive and defensive demands.

Clotet added: "I think Jude is player who is growing steadily.

"He has been working with us the whole pre-season.

"In the games in pre-season he was playing to a good standard. To a good standard technically and tactically. He has been understanding us more and more.

"And we have been working very hard to tweak the little mistakes that come because obviously he is only 16.

"We saw a very strong performance Saturday, very focused. If he did lose the ball he reacted very quickly, like all the other (senior) pros.

"And, as well, I want to remind him of the importance of this chance. It's not only (from) me, it's the chance the team is giving him.

"He is paying the team back with effort, with respect and performances. That's the way for him, going forward."