Written by Frankie Rudland (@RudlandFrankie)
It has been quite some start to the season for Jadon Sancho – the Dortmund winger seems to be smashing career milestones every week as he continues to go from strength to strength.
Since becoming the first player born in the 21st century to win an England call up, Sancho has also become the second youngest English player behind Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to net a Champions League goal at the age of 18 years and 212 days. The 83rd minute Champions League strike is just one of a total five goals and eight assists that Sancho has mustered in all competitions this season, contributing massively to Dortmund’s emphatic start to the season that sees them top the table in the Bundesliga.
Although such success may seem like it has emanated from almost nowhere, it had been a long time in the making for Sancho.
Despite being on a fast track to the first team along with fellow Manchester City academy stars Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz, Sancho made a decision that shocked both Pep Guardiola and City as he turned down a reported £30,000 a week contract over concerns about his first team involvement. With a pool of attacking talent as vast as City have at their disposal, Sancho took a calculated risk that would propel his name into the spotlight and perhaps pave the way for young English starts to broaden their horizons and take their talents to new shores.
The English starlet opted for Borussia Dortmund, a German club who are known for blooding young talent, with the Bundesliga outfit shelling out £8million to City for his services. Sancho reportedly rejected a host of top European clubs including Barcelona, Real Madrid and Arsenal to link up with the Black and Yellows.
He was rewarded with the number 7 jersey, a shirt that was last worn by none other than Ousmane Dembele. Dembele had then just made a £97million pound switch to Spain to link up with Catalonian giants Barcelona. They were certainly big boots to fill, but fill them he did, as he managed one goal and four assists in 12 appearances in what was a productive first season in the Bundesliga.
Sancho’s ambition had been repaid with minutes on the pitch, and this admirable confidence seemed to resonate with his English peers. Reece Oxford and Ademola Lookman were the next two high profile starlets to join the Bundesliga, both on loan deals from West Ham and Everton respectively, with both turning down opportunities to stay on British soil.
In just half a season Lookman had scored five goals and set up another four for RB Leipzig, as the loanee showcased to the rest of the German division that Sancho wasn’t the only gem waiting to be unearthed. Reece Oxford, meanwhile, racked up seven appearances for Borussia Monchengladbach in what was a useful loan stint for both club and player.
German heads were starting to turn and look in the direction of the English youth setups, thanks to the exploits of just a handful of starlets led by Sancho. Sure enough, the summer market saw another rising star head to the German league for the 2018/19 season.
Arsenal sanctioned the loan of Reiss Nelson to Hoffenheim as new boss Unai Emery deemed him not yet ready for Premier League action. Nelson, however, is making every effort to show the Gunners what they’re missing, with the tricky winger boasting four goals and one assist in five games so far this season. These are staggering numbers considering he too is still only 18 years of age. Nelson seemed to be all the evidence that the remainder of the Bundesliga needed to act on the goldmine of talent waiting to be unearthed in the Premier League.
A representative from every single club in the German top flight attended a recent England U17’s match against Brazil, in which the Young Lions won 3-1. Catching talent at a younger age serves as a superb business model, as compensation fees to English clubs would be significantly lower than any transfer fee required to pinch them once they develop.
British sides now have a fight on their hands if they want to keep the marquee academy players, which could well force top flight clubs to field more of their youngsters in the hope of persuading them to stay in English football. Sancho just may well have galvanised a crop of talented youngsters to broaden their horizons, and not follow the mould that has seen so much talent stagnate over previous years.
There are so many great coaches beyond our borders that could engrain their footballing philosophy into our next generation, and for too long we have been foolish to ignore them.
Germany, Spain, France and Brazil are just a few of the international heavyweights that have a large number of their most talented individuals playing outside of their homeland yet there seems to have been a reluctance or fear to do so as an Englishman.
In short, the ambition of one 18-year-old may well have just paved the way for a long awaited exodus.