Jadon Sancho returns to Man City on Sunday a more mature player who is still one Pep Guardiola carelessly let get away.

Wowing Carrington and defying Guardiola – the making of Jadon Sancho into a Manchester United star

As unedifying as it was for Ajax to see their own player go on strike, Manchester United were impressed with Antony’s eagerness and attitude to ensure he finally reunited with Erik ten Hag.

Sancho at city in 2016

On the other flank, Jadon Sancho was also accused of missing training sessions at a younger age. Sancho was only 17 in 2017 when he skipped training sessions at Manchester City, amid his omission from their pre-season tour of the United States.

“You (the media) are the lucky guys who saw the first game, for the first team for Manchester City, of this guy. It’s a long time since I saw something like this. His performance was another level.”

Stockport-born Foden has been wedded to City since birth whereas Londoner Sancho was raised in Kennington and a boyhood Chelsea fan. He accepted City’s offer to leave Watford as “it was a good opportunity to get out of the hood. There were a lot of bad influences.”

Foden was granted preferential treatment, while Sancho was afforded fewer opportunities. In 2016-17, Foden started 31 of City Under-18s’ 37 matches. Sancho started 19 and pillaged 15 goals – the same as Foden.

Sancho was first driven into United’s Carrington training complex in December 2016 as a member of the City academy squad. He emerged at half-time and teed up Brahim Diaz to equalise and later motored past left-back George Tanner and midfielder Callum Whelan, his shot deflecting into Foden’s path to pounce for a second equaliser.

Later that season, Sancho helped dismantle United’s insipid second string in a 3-1 win at Leigh Sports Village, where Scott McTominay started up front. He had turned United’s heads and the academy head, Nicky Butt, had already initiated an aggressive recruitment drive at youth level.

United came calling the summer Sancho agitated to leave City. So did Tottenham and Arsenal, but City refused to entertain the prospect of selling him to a domestic rival. Borussia Dortmund’s offer suited all parties.

Sancho has blazed a trail for other European prodigies. Erling Haaland entered the Dortmund halfway house and so did Jude Bellingham six months later. Bellingham almost certainly will be at a different club next year.

Jamie Bynoe-Gittens, 18, has the same agent as Sancho, plays in the same position and made the same move in 2020. His switch from City to Dortmund was a sweetener for the German club ahead of Sancho’s inevitable departure. Bynoe-Gittens scored twice against United in the Uefa Youth League last season and has already started twice in the Bundesliga this term.

Guardiola is not the only manager Sancho has struggled to convince. Gareth Southgate overlooked him for the fourth successive England squad announcement last month when Sancho’s club form merited inclusion.

Some England staff have never fully warmed to Sancho and his training performances restricted him to six minutes in England’s first four European Championship games. Once his transfer to United was announced mid-tournament, Southgate admitted Sancho’s training form was “the best level in [his] time with us”.

pep and Sancho in 2016

At United, Sancho has improved with every managerial appointment. Questionably integrated into the squad by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who allowed Sancho additional leave after the Euros, he was dropped less than a month after his full debut and did not tally a single goal or assist under the Norwegian.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka, another South Londoner, struggled to adjust in Manchester during his first few months and eventually excelled in his debut season, though he has regressed alarmingly.

Sancho was granted compassionate leave in January after the death of his aunt before internationals. Two weeks later, he returned with a purposeful performance, scoring against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup, and embarked on what remains his standout run of form for United.

Ralf Rangnick clinically diagnosed Sancho’s struggles in his first six months. “I think it’s also got to do with a lot of different things up here (points to his temple) in his head,” Rangnick said on January 18. “The whole league, the whole competition is more physical and the level of expectation is higher.”

Dortmund are almost always also-rans in the Bundesliga and winning the German cup constitutes a good season. In the United pressure cooker, Sancho felt the heat.

Rangnick also noted Sancho’s preference for playing from the left-hand side and he played his best football there under the German in February and March. Rangnick attempted to recruit Sancho to RB Leipzig when he was the group’s sporting director.

It was perhaps not a coincidence Sancho’s first United goal was in the first fixture after Solskjaer’s dismissal against Villarreal. Later that week, his Fred Astaire feet deceived Chelsea goalkeeper Edouard Mendy for a first Premier League goal.

Under Erik ten Hag, Sancho has been consistent with his goalscoring. The Boro strike was his third in 2021-22 and came in February. Sancho already has three goals for United this campaign. Ten Hag has seamlessly switched him back to the left to accommodate Antony on the right.

Ten Hag and Rangnick did not see eye to eye on recruitment but they are on the same page with Sancho. “He understands now he has to invest in the physical and that is what he did and now he can get the reward and that is what he has to bring,” Ten Hag said last month. “I’m sure it’s the start for him.

“With his potential, there’s much more room for improvement, he can be even more important and contribute with his creativity and scoring goals and assists. With the defending part, he can be even more important.

“He has the capabilities and he did it also in a different league, but this is Premier League, so the intensity is higher, so he has to adapt to that, mentally and physically. The capabilities are there, the skills.”

Off the pitch, Sancho has embraced the responsibility of a United player. He is one of the players most generous with their time with fans outside Carrington and in the mixed zone at Leicester he was engaging with the press, politely shaking hands of the journalists and cameraman assembled.

Sancho returned to City last season to score stylishly. For a period of his first season back in England, arranging a club swap with Sancho and Jack Grealish seemed logical. Grealish, a maverick reminsicent of 1970s cult forwards, is more aligned with United’s predilection for individualistic talents than the selfless superstars Guardiola favours.

Grealish has had an easy ride, his underwhelming time at City masked by his brilliant teammates and coach. He would have been devoid of a hiding place if he was a £100million United signing. Sancho would be ideal for City now Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus have relocated to the Big Smoke.

With Grealish and Sancho vying for the same role in the same national side, a professional rivalry is developing ahead of the World Cup next month and that is why there is more scrutiny on Grealish. Sancho is certain of starting on Sunday. Grealish isn’t.

Rating: 1 out of 5.





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