Reflecting on the Rollercoaster Career of Jadon Sancho

Jadon Sancho’s career has been a whirlwind journey, filled with highs and lows. Since his days at Borussia Dortmund, his trajectory seemed unstoppable, but things took a different turn when he joined Manchester United.

Manchester United had pursued Jadon Sancho for several years, and it was easy to see why. The winger was a breakout talent, making waves in the Bundesliga, consistently contributing with goals and assists for Borussia Dortmund. After tracking him since 2018 and backing off in 2019 due to transfer negotiations, Man United finally secured Sancho in July 2021, shelling out £74 million for one of the most sought-after stars in Europe. However, after two years, Sancho’s star had faded.

He spent several months absent from United’s lineup, and upon his return, his performances lacked the speed, power, and creativity that had made him a promising talent. After being substituted in his first three appearances of the 2023-24 season, he was completely omitted from the squad for the away game against Arsenal.

Fans speculated that he might be injured, but after the match, Erik ten Hag surprised everyone with his candid response when asked about Sancho’s absence. “Based on his training performances, we didn’t select him,” he said. “At Manchester United, you have to be at your best every day. You can choose in attack, so for this game, he wasn’t chosen.”

Sancho quickly responded, defending himself and stating that he had been “blamed for a while.” He exchanged the risk of criticism for a response, but it was surprising to see him engage. It felt like his career had been stagnant for too long, and the fire he once had had dimmed.

Rising from the South London Football Scene

Sancho was born and raised in Kennington, South London. The South London area has become a football hotspot over the past decade, with a 2021 study showing that 10% of Premier League players hail from a 10-mile stretch south of the River Thames.

Players like Joe Gomez, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eberechi Eze, and Tammy Abraham are just a few who emerged from the South London football scene, often concentrated in the South of the River TV program presented by Rio Ferdinand. Sancho, who honed his skills on the concrete pitches scattered throughout the area, known as “cages,” stands as the brightest star from this region.

Learnings at Watford

Although born on the south side of the river, Sancho first experienced organized football in North London with Watford. He joined the club at the age of 7 and stayed until he was 15. While he left before becoming a professional player, he has fond memories of his time at Watford.

“My time at Watford was really enjoyable,” Sancho said in 2022 on Manchester United’s website. “I was really happy there, and I had the freedom to play. That’s what made me happy and become the player I am today. At Watford, I developed a lot of skills, and I want people to see what I can do.”

Moving to Manchester

News of Sancho’s talent spread nationwide, and Manchester City came calling in 2015. Sancho described the move to the club as a “great opportunity to escape the mouse hole. There were a lot of bad influences.”

He played with the U18s alongside Phil Foden and current Real Madrid player Brahim Diaz, but he eagerly awaited a chance with the first team. When he wasn’t part of Pep Guardiola’s squad for the summer tour in the US in 2017 while Foden got the nod, Sancho caused a stir by ceasing to participate in training.

Joining Borussia Dortmund

While Guardiola believed Sancho wasn’t ready for the first team, the player had a different view and immediately sought a transfer. Borussia Dortmund swiftly signed him for around £8 million in the summer of 2017 and immediately promoted him to the first team.

Sancho’s self-belief was justified when he made his first-team debut in a match against Eintracht Frankfurt in October. His first goal came in a 4-0 win against local rivals Bayer Leverkusen in April 2018, and he contributed two more assists in that game.

Debuting for England at 18

Sancho’s performances at Dortmund couldn’t be ignored, and he was called up to the England national team by manager Gareth Southgate in October 2018, making his debut in a 0-0 draw against Croatia in the UEFA Nations League, replacing Raheem Sterling.

At 18 years and 200 days old, he became the seventh-youngest player to debut for the England national team (currently ninth).

Champions League Goal

Just two weeks after making his debut for England, Sancho achieved another milestone: his first goal in the Champions League. Atletico Madrid was the victim, and Dortmund led 2-0 when he came off the bench, quickly increasing the lead in a 4-0 win against Diego Simeone’s side.

17 Goals and 17 Assists

Sancho’s standout season only got better, ending with 12 Bundesliga goals and 18 assists. He also contributed one goal and one assist in the Champions League. But the following season was even more astonishing.

Playing alongside Erling Haaland, Sancho scored 17 goals for Dortmund, placing him among the top three goal scorers in the Bundesliga that season, behind Robert Lewandowski and Timo Werner. He also provided 17 assists, averaging more than one goal contribution per game.

Ending with a Trophy

Sancho claimed his first major title in May 2021 when Dortmund dismantled RB Leipzig 4-1 in the DFB-Pokal final. Sancho played a prominent role, scoring two goals, while Haaland added the other two. It was Sancho’s final game in a Dortmund shirt, and it was unfortunate that the match had to be played without fans in the stadium due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I cannot thank the people at Borussia Dortmund enough for the opportunity they gave me when I was very young,” Sancho said as he departed Dortmund. “At BVB, I had the chance to mature into the player I am today. Winning the DFB Cup last season was a fantastic end to my time at BVB. But I will always remember the support and love from the fantastic fans as something special.”

Becoming Man Utd’s Marquee Signing

United had pursued Sancho for over a year and finally reached an agreement with Dortmund in July 2021, agreeing to pay the Bundesliga club £74 million. Despite spending two years at Manchester City, Sancho displayed his long-standing admiration for the Red Devils.

“As I grew up, Manchester United was one of the biggest clubs that everyone knows, and of course, there were the trophies they won and the many iconic players before me,” he said. “So, I’m really happy to be wearing this shirt right now.”

Euro 2020 Heartache

Sancho played a minor role in England’s journey to the Euro 2020 final, but his tournament ended in heartbreak when he was brought on in extra time in the final against Italy at Wembley and missed a penalty in the shootout defeat.

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