Since the European Championship in 1996, the English squads at international tournaments have included a total of three players who trade outside the Premier League – David Beckham, the global superstar who seemed ready for Real Madrid’s Galacticos; Bayern Munich’s Owen Hargreaves, who hadn’t spent a day of his life in Great Britain before his first international match, was instead born in Canada before moving to Germany; and Fraser Forster, Roy Hodgson’s third goalkeeper for the 2014 World Cup, who didn’t stand for a minute in his country’s doomed campaign.
The point of this opening paragraph is to illustrate the rarity of talented English footballers who take the plunge and move to another country to advance their careers. Fans like Michael Mancienne, formerly Hamburger, and ex-Perugia husband Jay Bothroyd will be familiar to followers in England, but neither of them has fully realized their potential abroad (Bothroyd has had some successes recently, albeit in Japan)
All of this means that many were skeptical when Jadon Sancho decided to stop staying with Manchester City and move to Borussia Dortmund instead. The Premier League has long been considered the largest league in the world in England, as the alpha and omega of club football. Sancho was already a star – he was named Player of the Tournament at the 2017 European Under-17 Championship, for example – but many felt he should have stayed at Etihad Stadium to develop under Pep Guardiola.
However, Dortmund was convinced of its potential from day one. The Camberwell-born teenager, despite being only 17, entered the first-team squad as soon as he arrived and was given the number seven jersey. It took a while for him to break into Die Schwarzgelben’s team – he was still a teenager – but when he scored a goal and provided two assists in a 4-0 win against Bayer Leverkusen towards the end of the 2017/18 season, It was clear Dortmund had a budding star in hand.
Since then, Sancho has passed almost every test with flying colors, breaking records with ease. He was voted into the Bundesliga team of the season twice and has amassed a pretty ridiculous 50 goals and 64 assists in 137 games in Dortmund. He didn’t crumble under the pressure of the big moments – he scored twice in this year’s DFB Cup final in the 4-1 win against RB Leipzig, sank in the Supercup final against Bayern in 2019 and also won a district derby against Schalke.
Given the often foreclosed outlook in England alluded to earlier, many in Sancho’s homeland seem unsure of how good the 21-year-old is. As the Three Lions of Gareth Southgate prepared for the European Championship, there was a lot more shouting for Jack Grealish, who was a special player but has not been on the same level as Sancho in recent years to be included in the starting XI. When the former citizen was not named in Southgate’s XI for the first three games of Euro 2020, experts and journalists in Germany were shocked – Lothar Matthäus even jokingly suggested that the team should offer him a German passport if England didn’t care him
Sancho was eventually named on the team sheet for England’s quarter-final against Ukraine. The youngster may not have been explosive and influential, but it is perhaps telling that his country’s 4-0 win was the biggest of the tournament.
He had to wait until the final for his next appearance, as Southgate replaced him with only two minutes of extra time due to the impending penalty shoot-out. Unfortunately, Sancho’s penalty was saved by Italian Gianluigi Donnarumma when England succumbed to the final hurdle. Disgusting, if predictable, he was the target of racist insults after the final whistle along with Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka, who also couldn’t find the net backlog from 12 meters. All three deserve better.
Manchester United see clearly what all the fuss is about, however, which is why they have decided to part with £ 73million to bring him to Old Trafford. It’s a long-running transfer saga that should have been solved maybe 12 months ago, but the Red Devils finally have their man.
His absence wasn’t always child’s play, of course. He was dropped twice at Dortmund after returning from the international game late and was even substituted for Lucien Favre in the first half of a 4-0 defeat to Bayern because he wasn’t good enough. By and large, however, it is an unbridled success.
The impact his decision to step out of his comfort zone has had on others may well be his legacy. Before Sancho’s move to Dortmund, only seven English players had played in the Bundesliga – since 2017 alone, 13 more have followed his path. At Euro 2020, England has three squad members outside of the Premier League – they would have to return to the 1990 World Cup for the last time in a major competition and even then only Chris Waddle was outside the UK. It’s becoming increasingly common in other major leagues across Europe to see English faces performing well – frankly, Sancho’s choice made him a pioneer.
Personally, I hesitate to see him go. Sancho’s arrival in Germany coincided with my own move to Berlin, so that I could follow his entire career so far. It was a pleasure to watch him, especially when he has worked with Erling Haaland for the past 18 months. I have seldom seen a player with so much confidence and the ability to keep up with him. Thank you, Jadon, for illuminating the Bundesliga. Crash it in England – you will for sure.