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Jadon Sancho at Borussia Dortmund: Can the youngster take the next step?
Last Updated: 05/10/17 11:04am
Jadon Sancho embarks on Under-17 World Cup duty with England this week after appearing on the bench for Borussia Dortmund for the first time on Saturday. So how good is he? Adam Bate spoke to those who have worked with the youngster in order to find out.
Already regarded as the most gifted English player of his age, it caused something of a stir when Jadon Sancho swapped Manchester City for the Bundesliga and Borussia Dortmund. It is a huge challenge. Sancho becomes the first Englishman to represent Dortmund. The first to face the demands of the famous Yellow Wall. Everything suggests he will rise to the task.
After all, Sancho is already used to stepping it up. At Manchester City, he was the catalyst behind the club's FA Youth Cup run last season - bewildering Liverpool before scoring against Southampton and Aston Villa. He even had his moments in defeat to Chelsea in the final, showcasing the talents that will surely become familiar to football fans all over Europe.
Paul Williams worked with Sancho at international level in his role as a coach of England's Under-16 team. Having been at Southampton's famed academy before that, Williams has had the chance to see the country's most gifted young players up close. It was still apparent that Sancho was different to the rest. "He had that edge," Williams tells Sky Sports.
"Jadon is so talented. He is a very rare English player in terms of his technical ability and his ability to go past people. You get a lot of players in academies who have been coached, but he has got that natural street ability where you don't necessarily know what he is going to do before he gets the ball. He then goes and carries it past two or three players with ease."
Sancho has that speed of foot and thought. It is combined with impressive decision-making, always looking for little one-twos when cutting in from the left onto his preferred right foot. He is even tough to knock off the ball too. Sancho shared much of those qualities with a wider audience in reaching the final of the European Under-17 Championships this summer.
Named as player of the tournament, the list of past winners offers encouragement. The nine players to get the award between 2001 and 2009 all became full internationals, averaging over 65 caps, with five of them playing in a Champions League final. Four even won the World Cup. The last Dortmund player to win, Mario Gotze, scored the winning goal in 2014.
No pressure, then. But Sancho is used to that. His journey to Dortmund began long before his move to Manchester. He was the main man in Watford's academy, picked out for stardom while barely into his teens. Kieron Cathline was the year above Sancho but soon became accustomed to the younger boy dominating games against older opponents.
"I first met Jadon in the under-14s and he was the best even then," Cathline tells Sky Sports. "I always knew that he would be good. Put it this way, he was the best in my age group even though he was a year younger than me. He was playing a year up. Loads of clubs were after him when he was 13 or 14 so the Manchester City move was not much of a surprise.
"He was already playing in the under-18s by the time he was 15. He just seemed to cope fine at any age, whether he was one year up or even playing two or more years up. Nothing really seemed to bother him. The way he played and the way he bossed games always stayed the same whatever age group he was playing in."
Sancho will be counting on that quality to carry him through at Dortmund. "He has got the No 7 shirt so he is obviously going to be an important player in the team," adds Cathline. But it is not quite that simple. As Sky Germany reporter Sascha Bacinski explains, Dortmund have taken to hoovering up Europe's top young talent but only the very best break through.
"Nobody was surprised when BVB signed Sancho, because of their transfer policy in recent years," Bacinski tells Sky Sports. "When you look at the squad, you can see that Dortmund have a lot of young guns, many of whom are making an impact. There is Christian Pulisic, Julian Weigl and, of course, Ousmane Dembele had a killer season before going to Barca.
"Dortmund know that Sancho is an investment in the future so he will get time. But we have seen talented young players like Mikel Merino (on loan at Newcastle) and Emre Mor (sold to Celta Vigo) unable to become first-team regulars and move on to other teams. It could all depend on how he performs in the first year."
Sancho did not make Dortmund's Champions League squad but he appeared among the substitutes for the first time against Augsburg at the weekend. Sporting director Michael Zorc has spoken of Sancho's "huge talent" and stressed that he will get time to settle and, most importantly, time to shine on the pitch. "We will have a lot of fun with him," said Zorc.
Bacinski agrees, although head coach Peter Bosz's high-tempo game could mean an adaptation period. "I think Sancho will get first-team opportunities this year, but we will have to see how he fits into the actual team," he adds. "Much will depend on how fast he can understand the Bosz system and if he can put his personality onto the pitch."
Moving abroad at 17 will be particularly challenging in that respect. Williams recalls a young man who liked to join in with the rest of the group, always in on the jokes and accustomed to being at the heart of everything on and off the pitch. How quickly he feels able to express himself in foreign surroundings could be critical to his development.
"I got on really well with him," adds Williams. "He is a confident lad but when he is on the football field he is very focused. He is very humble too and has the right attitude because he wants to get somewhere in the game. He knew how good he was. I think he is someone who wants to become a first-team footballer and a well-known footballer too.
"I know he was at Man City which is one of the best clubs around for coaching but I do think going to Dortmund will benefit him. It will help him in terms of growing up and having to fend for himself outside of England." Jadon Sancho is already the most gifted young English player of his age. The hope is that going to Dortmund could make him even better.