Young Englishman Jadon Sancho took just three minutes to fire in Borussia Dortmund’s opening goal as they thrashed Stuttgart 4-0 at the weekend. It took his tally to two goals and six assists in eight appearances, and six of those came from the bench. The 18-year-old winger is on fire for the Bundesliga leaders and he has also started both of Dortmund’s Champions League games so far this season, playing a starring role in Europe too. He has already made his England debut and he has the world firmly at his feet.
Rewind to last summer and Pep Guardiola went public to say how puzzled he was at Sancho’s decision to leave Man City. The deep-pocketed club were offering to make him their highest-paid academy player, but it was simply not about the money for Sancho. He wanted to earn playing time and he realised that his best opportunity to gain top-level experience would involve leaving England. It has proved to be an extremely shrewd decision thus far.
Fellow English wunderkind Phil Foden is still languishing in the Man City reserves and he has only played 47 minutes of Premiership football so far this term. Brahim Diaz has not featured at all for the Premier League champions. It seems as though Man City are now a club that buys stars rather than makes stars. They need players that are in their prime and they have the cash to secure them, so there are few opportunities for youngsters to break into such a talented first team. The same is true of many young English stars: Ruben Loftus-Cheek cannot get a game at Chelsea, Dominic Solanke is well down the pecking order at Liverpool, and so on and so on.
By leaving for Germany, Sancho rapidly accelerated his journey to the top of the game. The likes Solanke and Foden are nowhere near the England team, despite manager Gareth Southgate’s well-documented faith in youth, whereas already Sancho has the big game experience and he has been fast-tracked in. Borussia Dortmund have an exceptionally talented team this season, and it just goes to show that in Germany youth is given more of a chance than in the ultra-competitive Premier League.
After eight games of the season, unbeaten Dortmund sit four points clear of the mighty Bayern Munich at the top of the table. The lines at Sporting Index show that they are increasingly being backed to enjoy a strong campaign and possibly topple Bayern. They are blessed with an amazing midfield, led by captain Marco Reus and also featuring Axel Witsel, Thomas Delaney, Christian Pulisic, Jacob Brunn Larsen, Shinji Kagawa and Mario Gotze. But Sancho has been given a chance to shine, and he is increasingly starting in favour of some of those illustrious names. Yet Pep Guardiola would have been unlikely to give him much playing time when the likes of David Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane are all on fire.
There are now calls for Sancho to go back to England, but he should resist such overtures. He has shown that he is clearly good enough to dazzle for a top six Premier League side, and he would now command a huge transfer fee, but his development would be better served in Germany. Dortmund play sparkling attacking football at present, and he will also be given further chances to hone his skills in the Champions League. It makes perfect sense for him to stay in Dortmund for several years, and then he can think of a return if he so desires.
It worked for De Bruyne, who could not get a game at Chelsea and went to Wolfsburg, where he starred and seized the German Footballer of the Year award. He then joined Man City for £54 million, aged 24, and proceeded to win all manner of praise and silverware, with many agreeing that he is the best midfielder in the league. If anything, more youngsters should follow Sancho’s path. Reiss Nelson is clearly a talented player, but he was unable to earn much playing time at Arsenal, so they loaned him to Hoffenheim. While Sancho was leading Borussia Dortmund to victory at the weekend, Nelson scored twice as Julian Nagelsmann’s men came from behind to beat Nurnberg 3-1. That took his tally to four goals already for Hoffenheim, who are also in the Champions League this season, and already Arsenal fans are demanding he is recalled in January.
He should resist such talk too, as he will develop much quicker by playing in big games in the Bundesliga. The likes of Foden and Solanke must be keeping a close eye on developments in Germany, and it would not be surprising if they started agitating for moves, either on loan or permanently. It is an exciting development for English football, as players have rarely plied their trade abroad before, but it could be invaluable to the national team as Southgate could end up blessed with a crop of experienced young stars that is primed to lead the Three Lions to glory.