When the reigning Premier League champions see enough potential to warrant spending up to £650,000 on a 14-year-old, you don’t have to be a footballing genius to realise said teenager must be a little bit special.
However, to become a world class footballer you need so much more than just talent. There’s a maturity, a consistency and an ability to make decisions under pressure which often sets apart the good from the brilliant.
Jadon Sancho has lifted the lid on a 'very difficult' start to the 2020/21 season with Borussia Dortmund following a failed transfer to Manchester United.
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Very few players develop these characteristics, and those that do tend to be in the latter stages of their career when the penny finally drops – Jadon Sancho has them in abundance at just 20 years of age.
While the Borussia Dortmund man’s decision making on the pitch is one of the facets of his game which sets him apart from most, it’s his off-field decision making which has afforded him the opportunity to fulfil his enormous potential.
His desire to play first-team football saw him swap the Manchester City academy for the Bundesliga in 2017, joining Die Borussen in a deal believed to be worth in the region of £10m; and it’s a decision which has been more than vindicated.
Sancho is one of the hottest properties in European football right now, with nearly every top club across the continent vying for his signature. Not only that, he’s also a regular in the England setup, with 18 caps and three international goals to show for his for his efforts so far.
Having swapped England for Germany, the youngster endured a stop-start maiden campaign in the Bundesliga, with a number of injuries limiting him to just 12 league appearances. However, new boss Lucien Favre had seen enough in the teenager to warrant him becoming a regular in the first team in 2018/19, and he certainly didn’t disappoint.
He would end the season with 17 league goals and 12 assists, as Dortmund narrowly missed out on their first top-flight title in seven years.
The teenager’s sensational form was a huge factor as Der BVB notched 17 goals and 21 points more than they had in the previous Bundesliga campaign, making the £56m departure of talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang midway through the 2017/18 season seem like quality business.
But could he maintain his fine form? Often when talented young players burst onto the scene, there’s a tendency to become over reliant on one particular aspect of their game, and the experienced defenders in the league will spot and nullify said threat.
Sancho is far from just a one-trick pony and that’s the reason he’s more than just a hot prospect.
The Dortmund man would better his 2018/19 figures the following year, notching 17 goals and 17 assists as Favre’s men yet again finished the best of the rest in the German top-flight behind Bayern Munich.
Despite possessing blistering pace, Sancho is far more than just a speed merchant. One of his greatest assets is his ball carrying ability, yet, while most jet-heeled 20-year-olds would be tempted to just knock the ball past a full-back and sprint after it, he has the maturity to utilise his incredible footwork, taking simple, slight touches as he runs at full pelt, knowing he can change direction or feed a teammate at any moment.
Then there’s his distribution. The England international’s eye for a pass and ability to execute it is almost unnerving, with Paco Alcacer, Marco Reus and Erling Haaland all becoming regular beneficiaries of Sancho’s ridiculous ability to perfectly weight a pass.
"Sancho is a player who has everything. He has fantastic speed, great technique, a good eye for his colleagues and that key pass. Everything he does he pulls off at high speed at the right moment. For me he is a perfect player. The ability he has is instinctive, natural. You cannot teach that brilliance."- Lothar Matthaus
This season, Sancho has struggled a little to retain the incredibly high standards he’s set himself over the previous two campaigns.
However, in a world where footballers aren’t seen as ‘normal people’, perspective is rarely offered. At just 20 years of age, the Dortmund man has endured a summer of constant speculation surrounding his future, with seemingly no end to the list of destinations he could have been plying his trade at this season.
Not to mention, in the last two campaigns he’s missed just four games for the club - that’s including their fixtures in the Bundesliga, Champions League, DFB-Pokal and the DFL-Supercup - meaning he’s played in 87 of Dortmund’s 91 games across the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons.
"Jadon’s a world class player, no question about that - but you have to remember he's only 19 years old [now 20]. It's hard to be outstanding in every game"- Lucien Favre
With international commitments also to fulfil, perhaps a little too much pressure is being heaped on the shoulders of a player still only 20 years of age.
However, in order to be considered in the world class bracket, you need to stand up and be counted at clutch moments, and that’s exactly what Sancho has done, contributing two goals and two assists as Dortmund finished top of their recently concluded Champions League group.
So far this season he may not quite have hit the heights of previous years, but that's more testament to how brilliantly he’s performed over the last two campaigns than a criticism of his current form. Class is permanent, and he’ll undoubtedly be back to his best in no time.
The pace of a winger, the guile of a number ten and the composure of a striker – Sancho is everything you could want in a right-sided forward.