The story of Jadon Sancho’s move to Manchester United becomes important again.
The new reports after looking like it were dead in the water are that agent fees have been worked out and all that remains is to settle on a price for United and Borussia Dortmund. The step is closer than ever and should he arrive, Sancho will be a multi-way transformative signing for the Red Devils, beginning with …
1. The right left-winger
Manchester United signs Jadon Sancho on the face of it, to play just one position: right-wing. They have Marcus Rashford on the left, Anthony Martial is upfront and Bruno Fernandes is at No.10. The only hole in their starting XI is to the right, and Sancho can plug it if he enters.
But Sancho is not only a right-winger but more. The youngster’s brilliance is that he can play in attack all across the second band. He is known, for sure, as a right-winger, but spent a good portion of last season’s end playing in a more “central” position as Dortmund changed shape. And he would still drift wide to the left even from this location.
In several instances before, he’s thrived on the left in a more orthodox position too. Mainly early on in his younger days with Dortmund and the youth teams in England. He won at the u-17 Euros in 2017 from there, and was voted the best player of the tournament as England finished runners-up.
Since then Sancho has played again there on several occasions, including last season at the Camp Nou where he scored a goal. He can actually span the whole width of the pitch, coming from both flanks inside and outside, and that’s why he’s so dangerous to opponents.
Sancho will definitely start as the right-winger of United in all the big games (fitness permitting) but as those matches progress you can expect to see him popping up all over the field, finding spaces where he can damage opponents irrespective of where he gets on the pitch. And the kind of fluidity that United requires to avoid being old and boring is precisely that.
2. Elite and essential chance-creation
The leading chance maker of the Premier League in 2019/20 has been Kevin De Bruyne with 136. Fred was the leading chance maker for Manchester United in the table, with 35. Meanwhile, Jadon Sancho created 69, nearly double what Fred wrote, and definitely double (or more) than any of the outstanding forwards of United.
Much as the front three of Manchester United were a great trio when it came to scoring and setting goals, they were not always a creative bunch who could slice up opponents and build opportunities for their team-mates. This played into the difficulties that United had to break down stubborn defenses (which ultimately cost them in the Europa League and FA Cup and therefore in the Premier League cost them very close).
Sancho will have those opportunities. You ‘d assume that he’s brought in for that. And alongside a full season of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba (although playing less than half of Marcus Rashford’s, Fernandes and Pogba’s minutes produced just three fewer chances with 30 each), United will suddenly find it much easier to break down rivals, which will help them win those close and tense matches.
3. He will play like…
What makes Sancho so unique about signing is that his kind of profile in the Premier League has just not been experienced all that much. Here we have a winger who dribbles a lot and creates elite-level opportunities, but who doesn’t shoot all that much. In England, there are very few players like that, mesmeric dribblers, who are selfless makers.
Sancho shares similarities with Bernardo Silva, of Man City, based on raw numbers. Okay, the Portuguese is pushing more than Sancho does and he’s not a dribbler as persistent. But in the end both men take lots of passes, bring the ball into the final third and build chance for their team-mates after chance. Riyad Mahrez is another with a similar profile, but one that appears to get more shoots.
It’s fascinating to remember how different a Sancho player is from Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah’s forwards star in Liverpool. Many expected Liverpool to come in for the player but in some ways, the numbers show that the style of Sancho would have made him an unusual match in the positions that Mané and Salah fill. Consider also the enormous expense and reality that Sancho will not actually proceed, and it makes sense to inaction with Liverpool.
4. The curse will be lifted
Since Cristiano Ronaldo left the club, five players have worn Manchester United’s fabled No.7 jersey, and in one way or another they have all been huge disappointments. Michael Owen had one last-second derby winner but was otherwise an injury-prone non-event, Antonio Valencia shriveled under pressure, Angel Di Maria was a misfit, Memphis Depay was mismanaged and Alexis Sánchez was, well, words have not been found to explain what Alexis Sánchez was at Manchester United.
The prevalent hypothesis is that they cursed the No.7 top. That Cristiano, David Beckham and Eric Cantona’s genius had put an unspoken weight on the number which was too hard to bear for others. No matter how ridiculous the notion is, it can not be ignored the three stupendously talented players have all wearing it flopped. But if Sancho arrives that’ll change.
Currently the Englishman is wearing the seven for Borussia Dortmund and will take it if he joins United, and he is a player of such immense quality and belief that he will certainly wear it and thus “break” the curse.
5. United will be back in the title picture
The form of Manchester United with Fernandes on the side was as good as that of anyone in the Premier League. The Red Devils lost only twice for the entire second half of the season (the aforementioned semi-finals of the FA Cup and Europa League) and then either beat teams or draw absurdly. A whole Fernandes season and you can imagine that United is far closer to the leaders of the league than the utterly ludicrous 33-point difference between them and Liverpool in 2019/20.
Yet a full Fernandes and Sancho season? That will in a frankly terrifying degree overwhelm the form of United. Obviously one of the issues in which United ran was that if you were able to stifle Fernandes you might stifle United. Much of this was done by Southampton, Spurs and West Ham and all of the Red Devils took points.
The strategy doesn’t work with Sancho anymore. Now you have to respect the big Englishman as well as the middle Portuguese. United being able to destroy rivals with two stupendous creative powers will not only make them more competitive but will also create even more room for other team-mates, potentially allowing them to be even more creative.
Signing Sancho will really catapult United back into the title chase. They would not necessarily win it yet, but they would truly be important competitors for it for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club.