Jadon Sancho broke new ground when he moved to Borussia Dortmund in 2017. Back then, it was the done thing for young English talent stay in the Premier League, but Sancho went against the grain to prove the world wrong.
‘Selfish’, ‘Arrogant’, ‘Greedy’.
Just some of the words used by tabloids to describe Jadon Sancho in the summer of 2017. The footballer had reportedly rejected an ‘eye-watering’ £30,000-a-week contract from Manchester City, instead choosing to join German side, Borussia Dortmund.
Money has never been a motivator for Sancho, though. Despite being slaughtered by the English press, the winger was well aware his move abroad was integral to his development. Dortmund offered something City and their riches could not: game time.
“At the time, I felt like I was ready to play”
Like many inner-city youngsters, Sancho was a product of street football. He honed his craft in the caged arenas of London’s concrete jungle and formed an expressive style of play. Away from the regimented training sessions Sancho received in Watford’s academy, street football acted as an escapism for the youngster and allowed him to showcase his ability.
“I was expressing myself,” Sancho told The Independent earlier this year. “No one cared if you lost the ball because it was like free-styling sessions. Everyone just doing skills against each other – trying to embarrass people.”
Sancho’s urban education helped develop his natural flair and guile, something seldom seen in English talent. It was enough to persuade City to part with a cool £500,000 for his signature, prising him away from Watford aged just 14.
Fast-forward three years and Sancho had reached the apex of youth football. Having helped England’s U17 side capture the 2017 World Cup, he was duly praised for his immense contribution alongside City team mate, Phil Foden. The winger now looked well on course to break into Manchester City’s senior side. Unfortunately, his efforts proved to be in vain.
Pep Guardiola had taken the reins at City the season prior and was hell bent on transforming the club into a dominant machine. Alongside the progress of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané, Bernardo Silva was recruited to add extra competition for places, leaving Sancho well down the pecking order.
“At the time, I felt like I was ready to play,” Sancho explained to COPA90. It was this willpower which ultimately led him to reject City’s new-and-improved contract offer and seek a new challenge abroad, signing with Borussia Dortmund for an £8 million fee.
City’s loss became Dortmund’s gain as Sancho was officially unveiled by the club and handed the iconic number seven shirt. For some players, shirt numbers aren’t significant. For Sancho, it was a signal of intent.
The number seven had become available by way of Ousmane Dembélé’s departure to Barcelona for a reported £112 million, and Sancho took this as a declaration of faith from his new employers. They felt he could replicate the Frenchman's success. He would not disappoint.
Going against type, Sancho took to life in Germany like a duck to water, embedding himself in a new-found culture and doubling down in training. He swiftly established himself as a vital cog in the Borussia Dortmund II side before earning himself a senior debut against Eintracht Frankfurt.
It wasn’t long before Sancho made Dortmund’s right flank his own, demonstrating the type of raw skill and pace that left English papers eating their own words. The young baller’s attributes complimented manager Lucien Favre’s counter-attacking style perfectly, as he wreaked havoc on Bundesliga full-backs up and down the country.
“Age is just a number”
Further to proving the media wrong, Sancho now hopes to become a trailblazer for young English talent and change the national perception of his peers. His impact is already apparent, with many indigenous prospects now opting to ply their trade abroad – Reiss Nelson, Ademola Lookman and Reece Oxford, to name a few.
When COPA90 asked Sancho about whether his career choice will inspire the next generation, he said: “I hope so because England’s players don’t like to leave home… you’ve got to have a lot of balls to step up and say ‘I’ve gotta do what I gotta do to fulfill my dream.’
“People progress in different ways. Obviously my way was to go abroad and show everyone what I have. I’m just showing people there’s other teams willing to play young players.”
Now 19 and widely regarded as one of, if not the, best teenager in football today, Sancho’s journey is one of defiance, determination and character. From London’s streets to having the world at his feet, Sancho has unequivocally proved, in his own words: “age is just a number”.