Manchester United have been heavily linked with a move for Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho. Here we take a look at why the Red Devils should do whatever it takes to secure the his signing.
It was a brave move, a path-breaking one if you will, when Jadon Sancho decided to leave Manchester City to join Borussia Dortmund in search of first-team football in 2017. It was a big step, a largely unprecedented one at that. Up until that point, there hadn’t been many up and coming footballers in England who had left the comforts of their homeland for a foreign country, that too aged just 17.
There was a big chance that it could have gone all wrong for Sancho. One only needs to look at how Adnan Januzaj’s career spiralled downwards after an ill-advised loan move to the same club that Sancho had signed for. But, three years since his move to Germany, the 20-year-old has grown into one of the most devastating wingers in world football.
Only this past week, the former Manchester City ace plundered a second-half hat-trick to fire Borussia Dortmund to a thumping 6-1 win over SC Paderborn in the Bundesliga. With that, he became only the fifth player to score and assist 15+ goals in a single season since 2006/07 in a top-five European league. The remaining four being Lionel Messi, Eden Hazard, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez. Elite company, indeed.
So, it should not come as a surprise that a host of top clubs across Europe are eyeing his signature. The likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid have shown an interest; so have reigning European champions and soon-to-be Premier League champions Liverpool. Then there are Chelsea, who are also keen on the English speedster.
But one name that has been consistently mentioned with Sancho since last summer is that of Manchester United. The 20-time English champions have been working for months to bring the 20-year-old, once a budding talent in the academy of their cross-town rivals, to Old Trafford. Having failed in their venture last summer, the Red Devils are going at it again, with full fervour.
For quite some time now, it has been claimed that Manchester United are in pole position to land their top target as well. However, the coronavirus outbreak seems to have thrown a spanner in the works. The pandemic has changed the entire dynamics of the transfer market, with finances of clubs getting impacted drastically over the past few months.
Given the prevailing situation, Manchester United chief executive, Ed Woodward recently claimed that big-money transfers are going to be an unlikely event whenever the window opens for business.
“Nobody should be under any illusions about the scale of challenge facing everyone in football and it may not be ‘business as usual’ for any clubs, including ourselves, in the transfer market this summer.”
Subsequent reports in the media have claimed that Manchester United are unwilling to splash more than £100 million on securing the transfer of Sancho, who Dortmund value well in excess of that mark. It has even been claimed that the Red Devils are prepared to wait it out for another year before launching a move for the 20-year-old in 2021.
The club recently announced debts of £429.1 million – a rise of £127.4 million compared to last year. Suspension of football due to the pandemic, coupled with the failure to qualify for the Champions League have contributed to those figures. According to a report from the Daily Mail, United still owe £169.3 million in player transfer fees. So, one can fathom why they are hesitant to splash the cash around in the transfer window this summer.
However, Sancho is one player that the Red Devils must break the bank for, in the upcoming transfer window itself.
Manchester United’s decade-long right flank problem
It has been over ten years since a certain Cristiano Ronaldo left Manchester United for Real Madrid. But the gaping hole he left on the team’s right flank still remains. The Red Devils have never really been able to bring in someone of a similar quality to fill in the void he left.
The likes of Nani and Antonio Valencia inspired a glimmer of hope at some point during their careers at United, but could not rise up to the expectations. Angel Di Maria also turned out to be a dud. In recent seasons, it has almost been like the club have given up on finding a solution for the problem, pushing the likes of Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira into the position.
Daniel James’ arrival last summer did offer some respite, although the Welshman has looked much more comfortable on the left wing than on the right. Young Mason Greenwood is another who has been used in the role this term, but he, too, is not a natural.
This is a problem that has been allowed to fester way too long by the club and needs addressing at the earliest. Sancho, to that end, would be the ideal man for the role.
The 20-year-old can play on either flank, but has been at his best on the right, when he attacks the byline and pumps in passes into dangerous areas. With his blistering pace and dribbling ability, combined with the attacking output that he brings, he would elevate this Manchester United attack to another level.
Numbers don’t lie
Sancho has been stacking up stellar numbers since his move to Borussia Dortmund. While he did spend the early part of his spell with the Germans with the club’s Under-23 side, once he became a first-team regular, there has been absolutely no looking back.
The 20-year-old finished the 2018-19 season with a tally of 13 goals and 19 assists in 43 matches across all competitions. The ongoing campaign has seen him better that by quite a big margin, despite having played fewer games. In 39 matches, the Black and Yellows star has amassed 20 goals and assists apiece.
Limiting to the Bundesliga alone, only Robert Lewandowski (29) and Timo Werner (25) have scored more than Sancho (17) this season. His tally of 16 assists is only bettered by Bayern Munich’s old warhorse Thomas Muller (17).
One of the brightest young players in the world. pic.twitter.com/KMPEdfoKQk
— TheHardTackle (@TheHardTackle) June 1, 2020
But, no player in the German top-flight has directly contributed to a goal more frequently than Sancho (33). It is also the second-highest tally for direct goal contributions by a player in the top five European leagues, behind Lazio’s Ciro Immobile who has been involved in 34.
Following his hat-trick on Sunday, Sancho became the youngest player in Bundesliga history to score 30 goals, beating the record set by Bayer Leverkusen’s Kai Havertz, another reported Manchester United target. All these stats and records are indicative of how prolific Sancho has been during his time at Borussia Dortmund.
The England international has successfully completed 3 dribbles and played 2.8 key passes every 90 minutes this term in the Bundesliga. In comparison, Manchester United’s top scorer this season, Marcus Rashford, has managed 2.1 successful dribbles and 1.1 key passes per 90 minutes. Anthony Martial has come up with 1.7 dribbles and 1 key pass, while Dan James has completed 1.1 dribbles and 1 key pass.
A look at Sancho’s expected goals (xG90) and expected assists per ninety minutes (xA90) sheds further light on his impact in the final third of the pitch. The higher the xG90 value, the better goalscoring positions the player regularly gets himself in. A higher xA90 score usually means a player creates a number of good opportunities for teammates.
As seen in the above table, courtesy understat.com, Sancho’s xG+xA per 90 value stands above that of the three United stars who have been regulars in attack under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season. In essence, the 20-year-old carries a bigger goal threat.
Manchester United have often struggled against teams with deep defensive blocks over the course of the 2019-20 campaign. However, with the addition of Sancho, who would bring an added X-Factor to the squad, they might find a solution to get past teams set up to defend and frustrate them.
Statement of Intent
Ever since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, Manchester United have fallen well behind their rivals. During this phase, noisy neighbours Manchester City have won three Premier League titles, arch rivals Chelsea have won two and Liverpool are on their way to win one as well.
The Red Devils, though, have shown signs of resurgence under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer this season. The arrivals of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the summer, coupled with the January signing of Bruno Fernandes seems to have set United on the right path again.
Heading into the summer, it is no secret that a number of top clubs are vying for Sancho’s signature, including Liverpool and Chelsea. But if Manchester United beat them to his capture, they would be making a huge statement of intent, sending out a warning signal to their rivals that they mean business.
Sancho has grown into a household name during his time at Dortmund. From being a hot prospect to becoming one of the best, if not the best, young attackers in the game currently, his rise to the top has been mesmerising. Given Manchester United’s problems on the right flank, the 20-year-old would be the perfect solution for the club.
The Englishman fits in well with the type of transfer policy United have had under Solskjaer. His speed and ability on the ball make him a good fit into the direct, fast-paced counter-attacking style of play the Red Devils have deployed under the Norwegian.
Sancho’s numbers this season are testament to the quality of his end product in the final third, making him the final piece of the puzzle that is Manchester United’s attack. A pacy, fluid frontline of Rashford, Martial and Sancho would be a terrifying prospect for any opposition and would certainly help them bridge the gap to their rivals.
At 20, Sancho practically has his whole career ahead of him and would be a long-term investment for Manchester United. So, signing him this summer should be a no-brainer for the club. While it may come at a big cost, United must take advantage of the fact that other clubs have also been hit hard financially and are likely to refrain from making big investments in the upcoming window.