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FEATURE | Scouting Emmanuel Dennis – a replacement for Jadon Sancho

While the footballing world has been on lockdown due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been stirrings, especially on the transfer front. One of the most prevalent stories has surrounded the future of Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, and despite there being no clear timeline for when the transfer window will open or operate, there hasn’t been a lack of clubs supposedly preparing for what would be an immense bidding war, should the winger look to move away from the Westfalenstadion.

As if to add fuel to the fire, recent comments made by Hans-Joachim Watzke has given the impression that Dortmund would be willing to cash in on Sancho. In an interview with RMC Sport, Watzke was quoted as stating that should Sancho wish to leave the club, there would be a discussion. He also pointedly said, however, that the priority was to keep hold of Sancho for as long as possible.

While many have pointed to Dortmund perhaps falling into the same cycle of selling their top talent, it is refreshing to hear that the priority would be to try and convince the player to stay a little longer. It’s no secret that Sancho will one day leave Borussia Dortmund, but what club wouldn’t want to have one more year with one of the brightest talents in world football?

The world of football however isn’t as simple as we would often like it to be, however, and contingency plans must often be made, for while the club may wish to plan for the future with a player, it doesn’t necessarily mean the player will reciprocate this vision.

Many names have been thrown into contention to eventually replace Jadon Sancho. One name in particular that has stood out has been Emmanuel Dennis of Club Brugge. Dennis, who is a Nigeria international, has been making quite the name for himself in Belgium as of late, and considering he’s been linked with the club, it’s only natural that we’d want to find out just how well he stacks up against Dortmund’s current No. 7.

It will take an incredible player to fill the shoes of Jadon Sancho, should he choose to leave Die Schwarzgelben, but let’s see if Dennis fits the bill.

Playstyle:

To get a better idea of how the two players compare, let’s first turn to their respective playstyles. In Jadon Sancho, Dortmund have been cultivating an energetic, intelligent and technically gifted winger able to play on both flanks. Over the last two seasons in the Bundesliga, Sancho has scored 26 goals and assisted a further 33, putting beyond doubt why half of Europe’s biggest clubs have been linked to his signature, exemplifying the pivotal role he has played for Dortmund during his time with the club. He has been Dortmund’s most creative outlet and potent goal threat this season especially.

Besides goals and assists, Sancho has been very important in Dortmund’s link up play over the last two seasons. He first furnished a very potent understanding with Dortmund veteran Łukasz Piszczek in the 2018/19 season, and with Achraf Hakimi this season. The combination of Hakimi and Sancho on the same wing has been exceptional to say the least, with their interplay often a joy to watch. They have made the right side of the field their own in many ways, but as mentioned, Sancho’s versatility makes him the perfect winger for a coach like Lucien Favre, who has shown he likes to have players swap the side they play on to confuse opponents. Sancho’s ability to do this helps keep oppositions on their toes and offers the team more versatility going forward.

Taking a look at Dennis in comparison, we find that we are looking at more of a typical attacker whose priority is to score goals rather than help his team create them. While Sancho plays predominantly along the wing and aims to create opportunities for others, Dennis’ numbers are much more goal oriented. In his last two seasons for Club Brugge, Dennis has scored 10 league goals and assisted his teammates once. This is perhaps down to the fact that Brugge have often played Dennis in a strike partnership.

It is important to note that Dennis, despite playing in a much more attacking role and helping lead the line, has scored less goals over two seasons than Sancho in a league that is not on the same level as the Bundesliga in terms of quality. This is in some ways a red flag when looking for a potential replacement.

In losing Sancho, Dortmund would lose both his goals and creativity, and Dennis has not shown the ability to replicate form that would suggest his capability to fully fill that void in either department. We have seen in the past however that Dortmund are fully capable of replacing world class talent with world class talent. Sancho’s signing is proof of this, since he came in at a time when Dortmund lost Ousmane Dembele, who seemed almost irreplaceable at the time too.

In terms of price, Dennis would cost a fraction of what would be received for Sancho, with the likely asking price for Dennis hovering around €20-25 million. This would be an affordable gamble for Dortmund to take usually, but in times such as these where clubs are in the process of losing crucial funds due to the coronavirus outbreak preventing games from being played and aired around the world, the club will have to be smarter with its money, and I think there are a few players out there ahead of Dennis in their development, and that play a similar role for their clubs to the one Sancho plays for Dortmund.

This is not to say that I believe that Dennis would be a bad signing; on the contrary, having watched his game I feel he is a very exciting player and it’s not hard to imagine his productivity and threat amplifying if he were to play in a team like Dortmund, but would likely not help Dortmund in replacing creative output. To replace Sancho, Dortmund should be more inclined to find a balanced winger that can score and provide.

David Neres: The Alternative to Emmanuel Dennis

A player that I have both admired for some time and written about in the past, the signing of David Neres couldn’t come at a better time for Dortmund. The club have been linked with the player on multiple occasions in the past, but for a variety of reasons a move never truly materialised. In the advent of a Sancho exit, the signing of Neres would firstly be a show of commitment to maintaining a high caliber quality of players in the squad, and go hand in hand with Dortmund’s recent trend of signing proven players; players that can have an immediate impact on the potential realisation of their title aspirations.

Neres, as a player, is well known for his creative ability and dynamism on the pitch. Over the course of the 2017/18 and 2018/19 Eredivisie seasons, Neres scored an impressive 22 goals and provided 24 assists, numbers much more reminiscent of the quality Sancho is able to provide. His game is much more technically sound than Dennis’, and he has proven his ability to provide quality performances year in year out in a league of higher difficulty than the Belgian top flight. His individual skill would complement the likes of Julian Brandt and Thorgan Hazard perfectly in their bid to get passes into tight spaces on the pitch.

The one drawback to Neres, which has to be mentioned, is that the player is coming back from a serious injury, one he picked up in November 2019, which has kept him sidelined for most of the season. Dortmund, as we’ve mentioned before, is a club known for having players that are “made of glass”, and there would be a risk of re-aggravation of said injury. Despite this, I feel Neres’ game has enough major positives for Dortmund to take this risk, even in the current market. Players like Paco Alcácer have come to Dortmund with lengthy injury histories and excelled when fit, proving to be integral parts of the Dortmund setup, also highlighting Dortmund’s ability to re-ignite careers.

While Neres won’t necessarily need his career reignited, Dortmund are the perfect next step for a player such as him. He is a player of immense attacking talent, which Dortmund have shown the capability of utilising to the maximum, as their game has always been about scoring goals. Neres has the ability to play alongside some top notch attacking players and play an important role for a club that has shown it is hell bent on achieving something great in the world of football.

By Brian Szlenk.

 

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