The youngest player to have made at least five appearances in the 2017/18 Bundesliga season, Jadon Sancho has certainly enhanced his reputation in the nine months since swapping Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund. It was perhaps telling that Pep Guardiola himself was desperate to keep hold of Sancho and through the brief displays he has given for both England youth sides and Dortmund this season, it’s clear to see why.
Sancho caught the eye with impressive performances during the European U-17 Championship in May 2017 in which he was picked as player of the tournament; his contribution of five goals and five assists helped England to the final as they lost on penalties, yet he still failed to travel with Manchester City to the United States for their pre-season tour.
This dispute subsequently caused Sancho to reject City’s contract offer, although according to Guardiola he had already agreed on this deal. Amid interest from the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, he joined Borussia Dortmund on the final day of the summer transfer window.
One of the most interesting elements of the move to Dortmund was the decision to hand Sancho the No. 7 shirt, which had been vacated by the second most expensive player ever at the time, Ousmane Dembélé. This was despite Sancho never having made a senior appearance in his career. It was therefore clear that big things were to be expected of the then 17-year-old from South London.
The Englishman was only able to muster 16 minutes for Borussia Dortmund before the winter break under Peter Bosz, who was sacked in early December after a winless run of eight games in the league. It was under replacement boss Peter Stöger when Sancho made his full debut, playing 90 minutes in the 0-0 draw against Wolfsburg having reportedly impressed Stöger on the club’s winter training camp in Marbella.
Stöger’s faith in Sancho was rewarded in the next game against Hertha Berlin, as he assisted Shinji Kagawa’s equaliser with a perfectly weighted cross, having had his first cross blocked; you could perhaps say that this small pocket of play acted as a microcosm for both the strengths and weaknesses of Sancho’s play.
His confidence to drive forward with the ball and take on a full-back has not been limited to his youth team appearances and has caused problems for seasoned professionals. The first blocked cross represents an area of his game which can be developed, his decision-making skills. He is occasionally guilty of running himself into difficult situations, which are not always easy to get out of.
Decision making naturally improves with more experience and once he has refined that and a few other areas of his game, such as his finishing, he will be an incredible asset for whichever team he plays.
Sancho’s technical game is already of a very high standard; having provided four assists in his first 12 Bundesliga games, his ability to look up and pick out a teammate having taken on and beating an opposition player is exceptional for a player as young as he is.
The best example of his superb technique can be seen in the first of his two assists against Bayer Leverkusen where he brought the ball down with the back of his heel, while sprinting away from Tin Jedvaj to then play in Maximillian Phillip for Dortmund’s third goal of the match. He rounded off his performance with another delightful cross for Marco Reus, akin to his cross for Kagawa against Hertha.
As well as these two assists, Sancho became the youngest Englishman to ever score in the Bundesliga with his opener in the 13thminute, showing great composure having already missed a chance in the game. To play so well in such an important game in front of the Dortmund faithful is proof of the enormous talent Sancho is; the game all but secured Dortmund’s place in the Champions League for the 2018/19 season and Sancho’s performance in this game made him the Bundesliga website’s ‘Man of the Matchday’.
It is very easy to forget how impressive Sancho’s debut season has been, even without the context; coming to a new country with a new language, at the age of 17, playing under two managers in what has not been the most stable of seasons for Borussia Dortmund; and yet during his limited opportunities to showcase his ability, he has impressed enough to the point where some had been calling him as a wild card for England’s World Cup squad.
Unfortunately, Russia came a tournament too early, but the fact he has even had people talking about the possibility goes to show what an impressive season he has had. He is certainly one to watch very closely next season.
By Oscar Bell.