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Jadon Sancho at 20: What next for the Dortmund & England talent?

  /  autty

It is not yet clear how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the transfer window. But when it does finally open and the buying and selling begins again, Jadon Sancho is sure to be one of the main protagonists.  

The forward, who turns 20 on Wednesday, has emerged as one of the world's most exciting young players since he swapped Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017, starring in the Bundesliga and Champions League and breaking into Gareth Southgate's England squad.

Dortmund are expected to demand more than £100m to part with him, but his talent is such that the huge price-tag is unlikely to put off a long line of suitors which includes Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.

A generational talent

Sancho has been irrepressible this season, racking up 14 goals and 15 assists in just 23 Bundesliga appearances. With nine games still to play, he has already surpassed his totals for the whole of the 2018/19 campaign, during which he registered 12 goals and 14 assists in 34 games.

The numbers are exceptional by anyone's standards. In fact, Sancho's combined total of 29 goals and assists this season puts him behind only two players in Europe's major leagues - and one of those is Lionel Messi.

What makes it all the more impressive, of course, is that Sancho has done all this as a teenager.

With a combined total of 60 top-flight goals and assists so far, he has racked up more than twice as many as Messi at the same age. His totals also dwarf those of Eden Hazard and Raheem Sterling. He has scored nearly twice as many goals as a teenaged Cristiano Ronaldo in all competitions.

In fact, the only player in the last decade to hit a higher total of top-flight goals and assists while still a teenager is Kylian Mbappe, who burst onto the scene at Monaco before joining their Ligue 1 rivals Paris Saint-Germain at the age of 18 in 2017 in a deal worth in the region of £165m.

Mbappe, 18 months older than Sancho at 21, is now regarded as the game's next superstar. But Sancho's record demands that he is placed in the same bracket. He is a generational talent and he is only getting better.

How he has evolved

Sancho's numbers for goals and assists show his extraordinary effectiveness in the final third but they do not tell the full story of his evolution as a player.

While he played almost exclusively on the right flank in 2018/19, his first season as a regular starter, Sancho has been used in a variety of positions in the current campaign, playing centrally at times but most frequently on the left, where he is able to cut inside onto his stronger foot.

That versatility has allowed Dortmund to vary their attacking line-up and keep their opponents guessing, and it has also helped that the speed and skill Sancho honed on the concrete courts of south London as a youngster are now complemented by improved decision-making.

"He manages to create dangerous situations with his technique, his speed, his dribbling," noted Bayern Munich's Thomas Muller earlier this season. "There are other dribblers with similar qualities in the Bundesliga, but they don't have this outstanding decision-making."

It can be seen in the statistics. As well as scoring and setting up goals at an even higher rate than last season, Sancho is losing possession less frequently too. His number of unsuccessful touches has dropped from 3.4 per 90 minutes last season in 2.3 this season. He has gone from being dispossessed 2.3 times per 90 minutes to 1.2 times this season.

The data shows an improved understanding of when to take risks and when to play it safe, and, crucially for any wide player in the modern game, there has also been evidence of defensive improvement.

"Jadon has become more complete and more efficient in his offensive actions, and he is slowly learning how to defend," Jurgen Koers, a journalist covering Borussia Dortmund for Ruhr Nachrichten, tells Sky Sports. "In his better games, he often makes the most sprints of Dortmund players because he is also starting to help with the defensive work."

Sancho is tracking back with greater dedication, but he is also defending from the front. Dortmund, like many of the Premier League's top sides, use high-pressing tactics to force their opponents into mistakes in dangerous areas. Sancho ranks sixth in the Bundesliga in terms of possession won in the final third this season, above any other Dortmund player.

There have, however, been occasional indiscretions. In October, Sancho was fined for being late to training following international duty. In November, he was hooked by Lucien Favre in the first half of a defeat to Bayern Munich - "I think you saw he was not good enough," the Dortmund boss explained - then dropped for a Champions League meeting with Barcelona.

But any doubts about his professionalism did not linger long.

"Jadon had some trouble with those issues, but more because of being sort of absent-minded rather than being an undisciplined type of person," adds Koers. "He is not someone to cause trouble for any reason. He understands that being a professional football player at this level means being professional in all aspects of his life."

Sancho has adapted well to life at Dortmund and is a popular figure in the dressing room. He has been mentored by Marco Reus, who has talked up his mentality, and there has been high praise from Favre too.

"He knows that I like him and that we all like him, both as a player and as a person," he said in December. "He's a good kid who helps us a lot on a regular basis.

"I've rarely seen a player who has come so far at such a young age."

The clubs chasing his signature

Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea are Sancho's main suitors in the Premier League, according to Sky Sports News, while his former club Manchester City could also enter the race for his signature given that they are well aware of his talents and have an option to match any bid for him.

Elsewhere in Europe, Barcelona have been credited with an interest, while Dortmund's Bundesliga title rivals Bayern Munich are also said to be keen.

Sancho has remained guarded when asked about his future during media appearances, but given the number of clubs in for him and the fierce ambition that drove him to Dortmund in the first place, it is little wonder that there is an air of inevitability about what happens next.

"Dortmund are always targeting high-potential players, but Jadon's development is extraordinary," says Koers. "They would only sell him for a huge amount of money and if Jadon stressed that he wants to leave the club. But, of course, if the transfer fee rises towards €150m, then negotiations might start anyway."

Sancho would favour a move to a club competing in the Champions League, according to Sky Sports News. That could rule out United, who currently sit fifth in the Premier League, three points behind Chelsea, but he certainly fits with the club's recent policy of signing young, British players such as Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Daniel James.

He would be a good fit for Chelsea's youthful squad too. Frank Lampard has earned plaudits for how he has helped to develop academy products such as Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham this season, but he has made no secret of his side's need for greater cutting edge in front of goal and Sancho's record suggests he would provide that.

It is also easy to see why Liverpool are interested. Sancho's progress will not have gone unnoticed by Klopp, who spent seven years at Dortmund before his move to Anfield, and the 20-year-old's high-speed, high-intensity playing style would make him a perfect fit for his Liverpool side's approach.

The question there, however, would be how to fit him into the team. With Mohamed Salah on one flank and Sadio Mane on the other, there is little space in Klopp's side for another wide player who would surely expect to be used as a regular starter.

A move to Barcelona might make sense given the need for fresh attacking impetus at the Camp Nou, where Messi and Luis Suarez are approaching the latter stages of their careers, and Bayern can't be ruled out either given their history for luring Dortmund's best players to the Allianz Arena.

It remains to be seen when exactly the transfer window will open. We do not yet know which clubs will test Dortmund's resolve most strongly. But what's already clear is that Jadon Sancho has a future at the very top.