COMMENT: Sancho exit places black mark against Guardiola and City
Written by Simon Austin — September 1, 2017
BORUSSIA DORTMUND didn’t make vague promises about Jadon Sancho getting a chance at some point in the future, nor complain he had played only meaningless Under-23 games.
Instead, they handed him the number 7 shirt vacated by Ousmane Dembele and declared him one of the finest talents in Europe.
“We are very pleased Jadon Sancho, who is one of the greatest talents in European football, will definitely play at BVB,” said Sporting Director Michael Zorc.
This description is not outlandish.
Sancho was involved in more goals - scoring five and assisting five others - than any other player at the European Under-17 Championships as England reached the final. His outstanding performances led to him being named the tournament's Golden Player, following in the footsteps of Toni Kroos, Cesc Fabregas and Wayne Rooney.
The 17-year-old has exceptional balance, mesmerising feet and is devastating in one-on-one situations. He is right-footed but usually plays on the left and likes to slalom inside, evoking memories of Robert Pires.
No young player who is yet to make a first-team appearance can be declared a dead cert - but Dortmund believe their £8m acquisition is as close as you'll get. His exit from the Etihad places a big black mark against the philosophy of both Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.
When Guardiola arrived at City last July he said: “I grew up in one of the most important academies in the world, in Barcelona, where the Academy and the young, talented players are so, so important. One of the reasons I decide to come here to Manchester City is because I knew how good they are working in the Academy and with the young players.
"For me, it is amazing as a coach to see the young players, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and growing and growing and imagining and maybe in one year or two years can join us and can play in the first team. Manchester City needs the people who grow up from the Academy because from that moment, they feel something special about the player."
As a disciple of Johan Cruyff, there are twin pillars to Guardiola's footballing philosophy - style of play and youth development. While still wedded to the first, he seems to have abandoned the last.
During his time at Barcelona, Guardiola handed first-team debuts to 22 Academy players, including Sergio Busquets and Pedro. How many Academy players have been given Premier League debuts under him at City? None.
It's difficult to claim that the talent is not there. City have reached the last three Youth Cup finals and Sancho was named the best player at the Euro Under-17s, as we've said.
Of course Guardiola feels under pressure to deliver results and trophies after a disappointing first season in England. But he is the one who has set himself apart as being special because of his philosophy.
Three Academy players did make debuts in early rounds of the Cups last season - Pablo Maffeo, Aleix Garcia and Angelino - but all three have now gone out on loan.
In an interview last May, City chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak said: “What makes it special this [coming] year especially is that we have three or four players we can genuinely believe have a very good chance of making it to the first team. You look at Sancho, you look at Phil Foden you look at Brahim Díaz.”
Now Sancho, widely regarded as the brightest prospect of the three, has gone for good.
City point to the fact they offered him £30,000 a week and he turned it down, but the winger simply did not believe he would get first-team opportunities at the club this season. Many suspected he wanted a return to London, having moved to Manchester from Watford at the age of 14, but his transfer to Dortmund has blown that theory out of the water.
Sancho may have looked at his England Under-17 team-mate Rhian Brewster, who has already been included in first-team squads for Liverpool, or at Wales’ Ben Woodburn, who has played in the Premier League for the Reds and scored against Leeds in the quarter-finals of the EFL Cup.
Sancho has not been included in any first-team squads and did not tour with the team in the US this summer. His situation brings back memories of Denis Suarez, the midfielder who left City for Barcelona in 2013 because he was frustrated by a lack of chances under Roberto Mancini.
After spells with Sevilla and Villarreal he returned to the Nou Camp last season, making 12 La Liga starts and even winning his first cap for Spain.
There comes a point when you have to trust young players and give them a chance. They don’t arrive polished and battle-hardened.
As manager, you have to give them that: something Dortmund were willing to do with Sancho, but City weren’t.