Declan Rice hailed Jude Bellingham as the best teenager in world football – and backed him to dominate the England midfield for the next 15 years.
Bellingham, 19, was a standout performer for England in their two Nations League matches against Italy and Germany.
A 1-0 defeat at Milan and a 3-3 draw at Wembley with Germany were the last two games before the start of England’s World Cup campaign in less than eight weeks.
While manager Gareth Southgate and a number of his players faced scathing criticism as England’s winless streak stretched into six games, Bellingham shone at the heart of the team.
The Borussia Dortmund man will now be in a good position to start the World Cup opener against Iran and he has certainly done enough to impress Rice.
“He’s 19 but he’s got the body of a 28-year-old, he’s a man,” the West Ham skipper said.
“He thinks like a man, plays like a man and shows personality and character. He is the future of English football to come for the next 15 years if he chooses.
“He’s also a top boy, he really pushes you on the pitch. We push each other and it’s a privilege to play alongside him.
“We’re totally different players and I feel like at 19, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone as good as him in 19 years.
“I watch a lot of 19-year-olds, whether it’s at a club, around the world, across the country, to get the whole package, it’s a hard thing to have and I feel like he has that.”
Rice is four years older than Bellingham and is now targeting a long partnership alongside the former Birmingham youngster.
“I’m still only 23 – obviously I’ve been around and played so many more games than him in my career, but you can just say, at 19, what he already brings to the team, the energy he has,” added Rice.
“He can play in a starting role, he can play in eights, he can play in 10s. He can play anywhere in midfield and I know he’s going to be crucial for us.
“Every spot is up for grabs, but every time I play with Jude we build that connection and I’m like, ‘you’re gonna bomb and do your attacking stuff and I’m gonna sit here and defend for you.’ so let’s get this good connection, it’s great to play with.
“He’s a man – you can see that when he plays for Dortmund, how he moves on the pitch.
“Even small things, as a 19-year-old you’re scared to talk to the referee, but he’s in front of the referee demanding answers, demanding decisions and he constantly leaves himself on the pitch.”
Rice and Bellingham got up to be counted out as England fought back two goals behind to lead 3-2 against Germany before finally being pushed back.
The England players’ commitment to return to the competition will reassure Southgate ahead of the World Cup, with Rice insisting it was proof the team were still behind the manager.
“One hundred percent,” he replied when asked if the feedback showed the players backing Southgate.
“I think you see how we fight for him, what we did in the previous tournament under him, we feel like we’re building something.
“We stick to a formation that needs work, we work on it all the time in training, but you see in the first half we still missed a few clear chances, but in the second half we we scored some great goals and in the end I think we should have won.