This article also featured on Get German Football News.
‘Trust me.’ Jadon Sancho was trapped. Despite being surrounded by opponents while waiting for a thrown-in, a 14-year-old Sancho still wanted the ball. His teammate obliged and Sancho wriggled free and dribbled away. ‘He was playing two years up,’ William Cook, the father of a teammate at Watford’s academy, told The Spectator in March, ‘I remember that he once dribbled past a bunch of players and stopped on the goal line. A defender tried to clear the ball and collided with the post.’ Still just 19, that trust in his own ability has carried Sancho to the top of the European game. What next?
Sancho’s mentality has been pivotal across his young career, explaining to the BBC that he made a concerted effort to stay out of trouble when growing up in South London. “After school, I just wanted to play football. All around me, there were people who did bad things, but I never wanted to deal with them.” Under-lining a more considered persona than is perhaps common among modern young footballers, Sancho’s forearm tattoo is a poem written by the player in memory of his baby brother, who died when he was small. “All I want is to do him proud.” Sancho told Four-Four-Two, “He’s my inspiration.”
Having joined Manchester City’s academy at 14, famously rejecting the chance to train with the City senior squad to move to Germany, Sancho has been allowed to develop at the right pace; afforded increasing opportunities to play at a high level during a crucial stage of his progression at a club that embrace’s young talents. BVB “showed intense interest in me early on and that gave me a good feeling.” Sancho told Sportbild, “lots of young players have developed well [here] in recent years.”
Crucially, Lucien Favre may also prove to be the right coach at the right time for Sancho. Amid spectacular success at Nice and Borussia Monchengladbach – challenging for the Ligue 1 title at the Allianz Riviera and dragging Gladbach up from the relegation play-offs to the Champions League – the Swiss coach has proven himself a precise, detailed oriented manager, his careful tactical tweaks often deciding closely fought matches. That nuanced strategic understanding and constant drive for excellence, which some at Gladbach may have deemed overly pernickety, will aid in keeping Sancho on his current development trajectory. Although highlighting Sancho as “decisive” last season the Swiss coach also pointed out he still needed to manage “highs and lows”.
While the right moves and responsibilities at the right times has helped Sancho, there is also a sense that this emergence was inevitable. Sancho is a rare breed in England, and increasingly so in Germany. A street footballer. An inventive, intuitive, prodigiously skillful tormentor of defenders, drawing regular comparisons to Neymar – a player Sancho admits he admires.
Back in 2011 a youthful Sancho and boyhood friend Riess Nelson were named part of Southwark’s London Youth Games Under-11 team thanks to Sayce Holmes-Lewis who told The Mirror that even then “Jadon was just making people look stupid. The nutmegs, the skills. Some were outrageous.”
Former England youth coach Dan Micciche explained to the Guardian that “Jadon did a lot of his learning on the street through informal play. People think academies produce these players; they don’t. They do a lot of things, they support, develop, nurture; but they inherit 90%, 95% of the player, even when they join at nine.” Now, not 20 until next March, in tandem in Marco Reus – “me and him link up very well” says Sancho, he is already dictating a team arguably favourites for the Bundesliga title. BVB have increasingly started to look to him to engineer results.
Sancho was again pivotal in the hard fought 3-1 win at Koln this weekend adding a third goal in three wins for Dortmund even if performances are for now a little intermittent. After Dominik Drexler’s stooping header had Koln ahead in an intense atmosphere at the RheinEnergieStadion, Sancho took charge in the final twenty minutes, rifling home the equaliser before Achraf Hakimi headed home at the end of a well work team move for 2-1. Leading an injury time counter, Sancho then set up Alcacer to seal the win.
Proving decisive in all three wins the Englishman had opened the campaign with a swift breakaway and calm finish after a typically elusive jinxing run had set up Paco Alcaer to fizz home the opener early in the second half to wrestle the Supercup away from Bayern. Sancho also scored twice, set up one and was party to the others in the 5-1 opening day flattening of Augsburg.
Two assists already this season add to a haul of 14 in the league last term alongside 12 goals. As a result, only Robert Lewandowski managed more; a combined 29 to Sancho’s 26. As Thomas Delaney explained last season “he has an eye for other players, he’s not selfish.” The equaliser against Koln was Sancho’s 15th Bundesliga strike, the youngest player ever to reach that tally. “It’s not me, it’s the team,” Sancho told bundesliga.com. “They help me throughout training and I’m just thankful for my teammates and the coaches who are playing me week in, week out.”
That consistency has of course been crucial to Sancho’s emergence. “If English clubs are not giving you a chance then going abroad is always an option,” Sancho told the BBC. “That’s what the Bundesliga is about. They believe in you, they trust you and, even if you’re so young.” With reports than other major clubs are understandably keen, an eventual move away from Dortmund seems likely but for now, given his age and current trajectory, it remains to be seen if that would be wise.
Although the club have admitted they will continue to reassess Sancho’s position each year, it’s clear BVB are desperate the Englishman to stay. Last week Sancho agreed to a new contract with Dortmund which reportedly doubled his wages to €6m a year, a deal that didn’t include an extension with Summer 2022 remaining its end date, having already seen his wages tripled only last October when signing the initial deal. While a move to Manchester United or Real Madrid may be inevitable, for the foreseeable future Sancho has everything he needs – a deft coach, a dynamic team built around him and trophies on offer.
That situation has coalesced largely thanks to Sancho’s trust in his own ability, not just to play at this level but to settle into a new culture, to develop as a professional and assume more and more responsibility. “He didn’t want to take this challenge,” Pep Guardiola ruefully explained in March. However, unfortunately for Guardiola, it was Sancho’s willingness to accept challenges that took him away from City. Maybe a little more ‘trust’ would have helped.
by Adam White