Jude Bellingham follows three generational England legends in having the country’s hopes rest on him. He plays like he’s unbeatable but others must step up, writes OLIVER HOLT

In an echoing concrete cavern next to the England dressing room at the AufSchalke Arena, Declan Rice spoke to the group of journalists gathered in a semicircle in front of him. He inevitably responded to a question about Jude Bellingham.

Rice, who had played a fine game in England’s uneven 1-0 win over Serbia in their Group C opener, made a series of complimentary comments about the player who had scored England’s winner.

Then he paused for a moment before summarizing. ā€œI have to let him flourish,ā€ he said.

Rice is doing something right because, boy, are things going well for Bellingham. The Real Madrid midfielder had ridden a hype train into this European Championship and yet his performance against the Serbians was still so good that he had the power to shock.

England did not excel in Gelsenkirchen, but Bellingham did excel. He ran the show. He was England’s best midfielder and England’s best striker. His defensive work wasn’t too shabby either. And his winning goal, a thunderous first-half header, was courageous and determined.

Jude Bellingham has slowly taken on the weight of the nation after his stellar performances

The Real Madrid superstar was the match winner in England's opening Euro 2024 match against Serbia

The Real Madrid superstar was the match winner in England’s opening Euro 2024 match against Serbia

There were moments, especially in the first half, when it felt like he was dismantling Serbia single-handedly, and in those moments it was hard not to let the mind wander back twenty years to the night at the Estadio da Luz when England played France in their first match of Euro 2004.

Wayne Rooney was 18 years old when he made his first major tournament appearance that night, but he played with utter fearlessness and undiluted confidence as he terrorized and bewildered the reigning European champions.

Rooney played like a force of nature that night, like a young man who could be anything he wanted. It felt like his career was launched towards the stars in the night sky and he could take England along with him on his journey.

It felt like we had a frightening talent in our midst, the kind of talent that even a team as successful as France simply couldn’t deal with, and that England had found the boy genius who could light the way to a first tournament win since 1966.

There were unmistakable echoes of that evening in the way Bellingham performed in Gelsenkirchen.

He now has more experience than Rooney did in 2004. Rooney was still playing for Everton. Bellingham has already won La Liga and the Champions League.

But Bellingham played with the same insouciance against Serbia, the same air of indestructibility and the same assumption of superiority that flowed through Rooney that intoxicating evening in Lisbon.

Bellingham looks like Wayne Rooney, but has more experience than the England legend

Bellingham looks like Wayne Rooney, but has more experience than the England legend

Bellingham has already won LaLiga and the Champions League during his short career

Bellingham has already won LaLiga and the Champions League during his short career

England then lost to France and they did not play particularly well against Serbia on Sunday, but both games were secondary to the individual performances that lifted their spirits. Of course, Rooney was injured later in the tournament and England went out. If Bellingham stays fit here, anything is possible.

At least he made it seem that way on Sunday. He plays like a man who feels like he is unbeatable. He does things that impact differently. There was a moment in the first half when he was brought down by Dusan Vlahovic as Bellingham burst out of defence.

There was a pause. Everyone expected the referee to blow his whistle for a foul. But before he could, Bellingham had dragged himself back to his feet and continued his run, slaloming past a pair of Serbian midfielders before laying the ball away.

Rooney inspired a kind of awe in other players when he was a rough-edged kid, and so does Bellingham.

The Serbs knew they were dealing with something special and that trying to contain him was like trying to catch a storm.

Again, like Rooney, Bellingham has the ability to inspire others with his rough edges

Again, like Rooney, Bellingham has the ability to inspire others with his rough edges

Sure, his influence waned a bit in the second half. Considering the season he had for Madrid and the energy he expended before the break, it would have been strange if that hadn’t been the case.

But he still seemed to be everywhere. There was an episode, deep in the second half, when he faced substitute Ivan Ilic on the Serbian goal line on the edge of the penalty area. Bellingham turned him one way and then the other. He played with him and when he had sold him for the second time he clipped a cross into the penalty area that begged to be finished before the goalkeeper claimed it.

It is already clear that he is the greatest talent England has had for a generation.

He is part of a lineage passed through Bryan Robson to Paul Gascoigne, Rooney and now Bellingham. He is the one on whom our hopes in Germany rest.

The problem at the moment is that England seem too dependent on him. Bellingham’s wasn’t the only good performance, but if England are to have a chance of winning this Euros they will need better performances from others than on Sunday.

Like Rooney and Bellingham, Paul Gascoigne inspired a generation with his playing style

Meanwhile, Bryan Robson was a leader to be admired for the Three Lions

Bellingham is part of a lineage that has been passed down through Bryan Robson (right) to Paul Gascoigne (left) to Rooney and now to the Real Madrid star

Phil Foden was restless and uninspired. He often is when he plays for England. That has to change quickly. And if not, Cole Palmer should get his chance instead. Trent Alexander-Arnold played well, but the jury is still out on the experiment of using him in midfield.

Harry Kane also had a quiet match and there are concerns about the back injury he is recovering from. But although he had a quiet game, he still came within inches of a goal when his late header hit the crossbar. Kane has enough of a track record at this level to believe he will play an important role in this tournament.

So the debates will rage on in Frankfurt on Thursday in the run-up to the second group match between England and Denmark, but none of those debates will be about Bellingham. He is the jewel in the crown, a once-in-a-generation player. He switched on Sunday. Now it’s time for others to join him.