In 1977 German football received its first big British import when Liverpool’s star striker Kevin Keegan joined SV Hamburg. In the city that gave The Beatles their first break, Keegan overcame initial skepticism to win two Ballon d’Or’s, the Bundesliga title and took Hamburg to the 1980 European Cup Final. Keegan’s success saw a raft of other British players join the Bundesliga, most notably his England strike partner Tony Woodcock who enjoyed two fruitful spells at FC Cologne. Now a new English sensation is shaking up German football, Borussia Dortmund number seven Jadon Sancho.
Rocking the Westfalen
Sancho arrived at the Westfalenstadion last August, following a £8 million switch from Manchester City. He made his first team debut two months later aged just seventeen. Last season Sancho hinted at his enormous talent as he became the first Englishman to score for Dortmund.
He dazzled against his former employers in pre-season and has started the new season with a bang, thus far contributing 4 goals and 7 assists in just 10 Bundesliga games. To put that in context his goals/assists contribution of 11 in the league is just 1 behind Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, and given Sancho started the season as an impact substitute he’s done it in far fewer minutes played. He’s also played in Dortmund’s last 3 Champions League games, scoring his first goal in the competition in a 4-0 rout of Atletico Madrid.
Sancho posses devastating pace down the wing and all the step overs and tricks reminiscent of a young Cristiano Ronaldo, he’s also shown an eye for goal and the rare footballing intelligence to pick the right pass. In recent years Dortmund has proved a great finishing school for young dynamic players to unlock their potential, Mario Gotze, Robert Lewandowski, Shinji Kagawa and Ousmane Dembele proving particular successes.
Dortmund currently sit top of the Bundesliga, unbeaten in 10 games and 4 points clear of perennial favorites Bayern Munich. Sancho is just part of the revolution at the Westfalen brought about by new coach Lucien Favre. Dortmund smartly signed Belgian international Axel Witsel this summer, to add composure to their midfield and loaned in Barcelona’s unwanted striker Pablo Alcacer, who has contributed 7 goals in his first 4 games. Add to that the return to full fitness of influential skipper Marco Reus and Dortmund are the strongest they’ve been since Jurgen Klopp delivered back to back titles for the club back in 2011 & 2012.
Blazing a trail
Sancho’s decision to sign a permanent deal with Dortmund took many by surprise. Sancho started his youth career with Watford but was spotted by City in 2015 and moved to Manchester. Sancho, along with Phil Foden was quickly identified as a special talent but a lack of assurances over first team opportunities saw Sancho become discontented at the Etihad and with his contract expiring he sought a move. Arsenal and Tottenham were interested but Dortmund made their move and Sancho was off to Germany.
Sancho’s success in Germany is likely to see more young English players head to the Bundesliga. A handful have already tried their luck with Everton’s Ademola Lookman enjoying a successful half season loan at RB Leipzig and Arsenal youngster Reiss Nelson now scoring for fun at Hoffenheim.
England have enjoyed phenomenal success in youth team tournaments in recent years and that success combined with the big Premier League club’s reluctance to trust academy players at senior level means top clubs in Germany, Spain & Italy are showing increasing interest in England’s next generation.
Sancho first came to wider attention in May 2017, when he lit up the European Under 17s Championship as England made it to the final and Sancho was voted player of the tournament.
Shortly after his arrival at Dortmund Sancho was off to the Under 17 World Cup and although he was recalled to Dortmund after the group phase he again proved too good for junior defences to handle, despite Sancho’s absence from the knockout phase England picked up the trophy with Foden the star of the tournament.
Sancho and Foden then impressed with England’s Under 19s and last month Sancho received his first senior call up. He made his debut as substitute in the Nations League tie with Croatia, becoming the first player born this century to play for England. In his 12 minute cameo Sancho terrorized Croatia left back Josip Pivaric and almost provided a late winner in an otherwise sterile 0-0 draw.
Many called for Sancho to start England’s next game, but against Spain manager Gareth Southgate stuck with his preferred front three of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, they produced a world-class display of combination front play as England scored three times in the first half. Sancho remained on the bench and for now it seems his role will be limited to that of impact substitute.
Too often in recent years a new player has been hyped up to be England’s great hope, only to disappoint. Jack Wilshere, Jack Rodwell, Ravel Morrison and David Bentley proved particularly frustrating cases who saw their careers nosedive due to injury, lack of commitment, bad transfer decisions or off field problems. Sancho has so far side-stepped those pitfalls. Sancho should be helped by the improved depth of young english talent meaning he won’t be expected to carry a nations hopes solely on his young shoulders.
Sancho and Dortmund face the biggest test of their title credentials this weekend when all-conquering Bayern Munich visit the Westfalen. Bayern have won six straight Bundesliga titles but have looked increasingly vulnerable this season, a win and Dortmund will hold a seven point lead over the Bavarian side.
Meanwhile Dortmund are certainties to reach the Champions League knockout phase and few will fancy facing them over two legs. Sancho meanwhile is thought to be a transfer target of Manchester United and Liverpool with a fee of £100 million being banded around- just the twelve times what Dortmund paid last year!
But the youngster has signed an improved contract to keep him in Dortmund until 2022. Sancho has shown no interest in a move and Dortmund have made it clear they have no intention of selling- notably Sancho’s contract does not include a buyout clause. It’s hard to argue Sancho would be better off returning to his homeland given just how well things have gone in Germany and rumours suggest he might be joined at Dortmund by some old friends. Dortmund are though to be targeting City starlet Foden who despite the encouraging words of Pep Guardiola remains only a fringe player in Manchester and Dortmund are also keen on another of England’s Under 17 World Cup winners in Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi.
For now things couldn’t be going better for Sancho or Dortmund and it seems like Keegan from forty years ago;he is blazing a trail for more of his countrymen to follow. Saturday evening’s clash with Bayern is the most eagerly anticipated since the 2013 Champions League Final.
Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich (Saturday 10th November, 17.30 GMT)
Picture Credits: Four-Four-Two, Football Whispers, Getty