Jadon Sancho had to settle for a peripheral role for most of Euro 2020, with England manager Gareth Southgate opting for other players in the attacking positions on their run to the final.
But his quiet tournament – before the agony of a missed penalty in England’s shootout defeat to Italy – was no deterrent to Manchester United, who have finally confirmed the Borussia Dortmund winger’s arrival at Old Trafford having tried to to sign him last summer.
It could be argued that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have more pressing needs in other areas. Many fans would prefer a new central defender to partner Harry Maguire. But Sancho has emerged as one of the world’s most exciting young players in recent years and it is easy to understand why United were so determined to finally get their man.
Man Utd sign Jadon Sancho from Dortmund for £73mWhy Man Utd, Arsenal use set-piece coachesTransfer Centre LIVE!Consistency is key 4:19 As he completes a move to Manchester United, watch a collection of Jadon Sancho’s best bits in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund Sancho’s form dipped at the start of last season as he endured a 1,298-minute run without scoring in the Bundesliga following a summer of intense speculation surrounding his future.
It wasn’t until the second half of the campaign that he hit his stride again but the 21-year-old’s overall record in Germany reflects his extraordinary consistency since his Dortmund breakthrough.
Indeed, Sancho still managed to finish last season having contributed eight goals and 11 assists in the Bundesliga and his combined total of 78 since the start of the 2018/19 campaign places him among the top 10 players across Europe’s major leagues.
Sancho is in illustrious company in that list and the fact he is level with Tottenham’s Harry Kane, the Premier League’s top scorer and creator last season, underlines just how effective he has been.
It is all the more impressive, of course, given his age.
No other 21-year-old in Europe can match Sancho’s output over the last three years and it is also worth noting that six of the other nine players in the top 10 for goals and assists in that period are aged 30 or over.
Unlike them, Sancho is not even close to his prime in terms of age and Manchester United can be confident that, with the right guidance from the coaches around him, this already world-class talent will become even better in the years to come.
Creative edge on Greenwood
Image: Sancho joined Borussia Dortmund from Manchester City in 2017 Manchester United’s pursuit of Sancho puzzled some onlookers given the club already have Mason Greenwood in his favoured position on the right-hand side of their attack.
Greenwood, two years younger than Sancho at 19, enjoyed an excellent season for Solskjaer’s side last term, scoring eight goals in his last 14 games and making 52 appearances in all competitions. He undoubtedly has a big future at Old Trafford.
But while there are similarities between the two players in terms of their speed, acceleration and finishing ability, it is also true that Sancho offers attributes the teenager doesn’t.
Most significantly, there is his creativity.
Sancho’s goals sometimes distract from the ones he sets up but he is as much a creator as he is a scorer.
Last season, he ranked among the top five players in the Bundesliga for assists, chances created and big chances created, while only Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich and Dortmund team-mate Raphael Guerreiro completed more through balls.
Greenwood’s numbers pale in comparison to Sancho’s in that regard and Sancho’s overall record for assists across the last three seasons is even more impressive.
Remarkably, only Bayern’s Thomas Muller and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi have registered more assists than him in Europe’s major leagues in that period. Sancho has racked up seven more than Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne.
Sancho possesses outstanding dribbling ability – another area in which he has an edge on Greenwood – but crucially, he also has the composure and intelligence to make the right decisions when it comes to his final pass.
Muller, his rival in the Bundesliga, articulated it perfectly last year. “He manages to create dangerous situations with his technique, his speed, his dribbling,” said the Bayern forward.
“There are other dribblers with similar qualities in the Bundesliga, but they don’t have this outstanding decision-making.”
The versatility factor
Image: Jadon Sancho has shone since his Borussia Dortmund breakthrough Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher insisted Sancho may stifle Greenwood’s development on Monday Night Football in May and those concerns are certainly valid ones.
But there may also be ways in which they can work together. Indeed, while Sancho’s favoured role is on the right flank, he is comfortable playing just about everywhere across the front line.
In certain games for Borussia Dortmund, he has even been deployed in wing-back areas.
That versatility may allow Solskjaer to reconfigure his attack without sacrificing Greenwood, and Sancho’s playing style may even help the teenager thrive as a central striker.
It is in that position, after all, that Solskjaer sees Greenwood playing in the long-term and Sancho’s arrival at Old Trafford may mean he shares the role with Edinson Cavani next season.
Greenwood, like his Manchester United team-mate Marcus Rashford, is at his most dangerous when running in behind opposition defences and who better than Sancho to find those runs?
Sancho has the vision and technical quality to see and execute defence-splitting passes and the statistics prove it. In the Bundesliga over the last three seasons, no player has attempted more through balls while only two players, Kimmich and Mainz’s Jean-Paul Boetius, have completed more.
The Manchester United hierarchy will have noted how Sancho’s passing ability, in addition to his many other qualities, could complement the attacking players the club already have at their disposal. He will increase the competition for places in their attack but Greenwood may in fact stand to benefit more than anyone.