Manchester City’s inability to keep hold of Jadon Sancho looks worse with every jaw-dropping run and goal added to his tally at Borussia Dortmund.
Now one of the most sought-after young players in the game with clubs (including City) climbing over each other for his signature, it seems a worthy time to reflect on his time in their academy and decision to take a leap of faith in the Bundesliga.
Why did one of City’s most promising starlets turn his back on a £30,000-per-week deal at one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League with arguably the world’s best coach at the helm?
Jadon Sancho chose to leave Manchester City and has become a star since departing
The Borussia Dortmund winger showed ruthless ambition to test himself in the Bundesliga
Sancho moved to the club as a 15-year-old from Watford, leaving Hertfordshire to join one of the most sophisticated youth set-ups in the country.
He immediately impressed and demonstrated why City splashed out £66,000, rising to £500,000 with add-ons.
On his full debut for the Under-18s, playing against some opponents who were three years older than him, Sancho bagged a double to wow his new coach Jason Wilcox.
After the game Wilcox told the Manchester Evening News: ‘For a young kid playing his first Under-18s football match I thought he was sensational.
‘I’m really looking forward to working with him because he’s a talented boy who works really hard.’
For some youngsters, settling into a new environment away from their home town can be a struggle, but Sancho was at a boarding school funded by Watford from the age of 11 so was already independent and adaptable.
Sancho spent two seasons with City with Brahim Diaz (right) and Raheem Sterling
‘I was still in England and I knew I could go back home. It was a bit further away but I could see the family every three weeks or so. Settling there was not a problem,’ he has since explained.
Sancho possessed dazzling ability honed in the football cages of south London. He exhibited those skills on the pitch and was a tireless worker, like most top class players, obsessed with constant improvement. His eye-catching tricks increased interest in him and generated a buzz.
One of Sancho’s heroes is Ronaldinho and he took great pleasure in posting his own outrageous pieces of skill on social media as a young teenager.
A clip he shared in April 2017 showed him cutting in from wide on the left flank, beating eight players and scoring a peach against Arsenal.
Sancho trained at City’s state-of-the-art complex but always wanted to push for more
Another the previous year involved a highlight reel of nutmegs.
Sancho produced the cold hard numbers to go with his flashy touches too. In the 2016-17 season he slotted 13 goals in 15 games for the Under-18s with four assists, three goals in seven for the Under-23s and two in six for the side in the UEFA Youth League.
The winger rarely spoke publicly or gave interviews but a post-game comment after a comeback win over Celtic demonstrated Sancho’s interest in the game tactically.
‘We went 3-4-3 which was more attacking. That meant it was harder for the opposition because we had more bodies in midfield and they couldn’t get out,’ he reflected after being named Man of the Match in a 3-2 victory.
Sancho’s irrepressible talent and hunger had him constantly striving for the next challenge but opportunities at a higher level were few and far between.
Despite being told by coaches that he would be fast-tracked along with Phil Foden and Brahim Diaz into the first-team, the reality was different.
The winger has grown into one of the most sought-after young players in world football
City were desperate for him to stay but with Leroy Sane, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva all fully-fledged international stars ahead of him in the pecking order, Sancho felt his development was at best stifled, at worst blocked.
Once City came to terms with the fact that one of the jewels in their academy crown wanted to leave, they were determined to make sure it wasn’t to a Premier League rival.
At the time senior figures at the club made noises to suggest Sancho was listening to the wrong advice. They had been willing to make him their highest paid academy player in history.
But when Borussia Dortmund came calling with an £8million transfer fee, promises of game time and the No 7 shirt, all parties accepted the move.
Since joining the Bundesliga side in 2017, Sancho has racked up 31 goals in all competitions before his 20th birthday.
Pep Guardiola has hardly been able to hide his disappointment and when asked about Sancho’s exit, said: ‘I don’t know. He didn’t want to take this challenge, this opportunity to discover if he was able to (be good enough for City).
Sancho had an impressive scoring record and was told he’d be fast-tracked to the first team
‘He decided to go there. So, it’s perfect. It’s going well and congratulations on what he is doing.’
The player himself has refused to criticise City or go into detail about why he left the club. He diplomatically preferred to speak about the lure of Dortmund.
‘Why Dortmund? It speaks for itself: youngsters get opportunities,’ he told FourFourTwo.
‘You’ve got to thank Dortmund, because it’s unheard of for a team that gets 80,000 fans at every home game to put so much faith in youngsters.
‘It was crazy how many clubs wanted me – it shows how well you’re doing, but I always felt Dortmund was right for me.’
And he is by no means burning bridges with anyone at City, adding: ‘When I left, there was a lot of people that doubted me – they were like “oh you shouldn’t have left Pep Guardiola” – but I just thought that it was the best thing for me.
Sancho says there is no acrimony between himself and Pep Guardiola despite leaving
‘I still have love for Pep, I still love everyone at the club, because they took me from Watford and helped me develop into who I am today.’
His old team-mate Diaz joined Real Madrid for £20m but is struggling for game time, while Foden continues to fight for minutes and has not been able to develop as rapidly at City as Sancho has with Dortmund, perhaps vindicating the decision to leave.
The 19-year-old is helping his side battle for the Bundesliga and Champions League and forming an enviable combination with Erling Haaland and Marco Reus.
He’ll almost certainly be in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for the European Championship this summer and the ruthless ambition he showed in leaving City continues to fuel his ascent to the very top.