Jadon Sancho continues to struggle at Manchester United. The former Dortmunder has to show what he’s made of as soon as possible, because the Red Devils’ patience could soon be over.
On Wednesday he got his chance. Jadon Sancho was allowed to play against Brentford for Manchester United from the start. It was his twelfth start for the Red Devils this season.
Erik ten Hag opted for Sancho and against the weak Wout Weghorst. At MUTV The team manager said about his reasons for using the former BVB star: “Creativity. Jadon has made good progress since he’s back. We know he can play the deadly pass. He can do one-on-one get through, get behind the chain and he’s dangerous.”
United won the game 1-0. Sancho had a few good scenes, but he only justified a few of ten Hag’s advance praise. He was substituted in the 71st minute. It looked better on Saturday. Sancho started again. Marcus Rashford gave him the ball in the 36th minute and Sancho put the ball through beautifully for Scott McTominay’s opener. There they were: creativity and a deadly pass.
But the question is not whether Sancho has outstanding skills anyway. There can be little doubt about that. For the 23-year-old, the final stages of the season are more about saving his career at Old Trafford. At the end of last year he was out for a long time due to a lack of fitness and mental problems. It was precisely in that phase that United started a winning streak.
Sancho has worked hard for his return, now the corresponding achievements are still missing. United have high demands on the attacker – but do they have them too?
The pressure of the transfer
After a transfer saga that had dragged on for almost two years, it was completed on July 23, 2021. Sancho joined United from Borussia Dortmund. England’s record champions shelled out a whopping 85 million euros for the right winger.
At that point, the high sum seemed justified. Some experts even certified United as a good deal, as those responsible for BVB had initially demanded more than 100 million euros.
And that demand was certainly not absurd. BVB-Sancho was a phenomenal player who recorded 50 goals and 64 assists in 137 games and was voted Bundesliga team of the year two years in a row.
Sancho played for BVB for four years and impressed with one thing that he now seems to have completely lost: carelessness.
The difference in quality between the Bundesliga and the Premier League certainly played a role. Many newcomers need an adjustment period in England’s top flight. But Sancho doesn’t necessarily seem like someone for whom the pace is too high. More like someone who carries the weight of the whole world across the lawn on his shoulders.
United’s then interim coach Ralf Rangnick said a good year ago: “The expectations were much lower (in Dortmund). Now he’s in the situation that he switched to a club like United for a large sum. He plays in a different league and at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Those are things that concern you.”
Sancho turned 23 last month. An age when the status of talent is slowly but surely losing its validity.
Lack of self-confidence
In Dortmund Sancho was fearless. When he got the ball, spectators held their breath, expecting something special – and he rarely disappointed.
He glided past the defenders with ease and regularly fed the BVB strikers sugar passes. In addition, he himself radiated goal danger.
That’s why United invested so much in Sancho. He seemed to have all the necessary attributes to follow in the footsteps of some great wingers like George Best, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo.
All three of these icons were blessed with an unshakable belief in their own strength. It seems as if Sancho does not have this inner strength and self-confidence.
He has recorded just 15 assists in 66 appearances for United, which shows he no longer takes risks when in possession.
Former United defender Rio Ferdinand recently warned Sancho and Antony, another outrageously expensive Manchester winger, on his YouTube channel FIVE: “There is one aspect that I think absolutely needs to be improved with Antony and Jadon Sancho: risk-taking. You don’t succeed without playing risky, you don’t win titles without playing risky. Alex Ferguson has us said again and again that I don’t want to see strikers playing it safe.”
Sancho’s careful play underlines how little self-confidence he has. Until he regains the courageous attitude that made him so successful at Dortmund, ten Hag will have little reason to keep him in the starting XI.
The coach’s confidence
Ten Hag was remarkably candid when it came to Sancho’s dip in form in late 2022. The right-footer was dropped from England’s squad for the 2022 World Cup after falling out of favor at United and suffered another setback when Ten Hag decided not to take him to the club’s winter training camp in Spain.
“We have a drop in performance and sometimes you don’t know why or what is causing it,” said the United boss. “That’s what we’re investigating now. We’re trying to research it and we’re trying to get him back in shape. It’s a combination of physical and mental issues.”
Sancho returned to the squad in United’s 2-0 win in the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg against Nottingham Forest and has made 13 appearances since, registering just two goals and one assist. So Ten Hag is in a bind. He would like to strengthen Sancho. But this one is not at all efficient in its performances. The competitors know that too, and there are a few of them for the coveted places on the offensive.
Marcus Rashford, United’s top scorer in 2022/23, is at his best when coming from the left. Alejandro Garnacho, who is currently out injured, also impressed from that cross and is considered one of the club’s greatest talents.
On the right, €95m summer signing Antony remains Ten Hag’s all-in-one. Although the Brazilian has also been criticized for his lack of finishing quality, he possesses an aggressive, fighting streak that is contagious – not to mention his powerful left foot.
With Anthony Martial now fully operational again, it will be even more difficult for Sancho to come to the fore. He’s only played four 90-minute games this season and being substituted off by Brentford didn’t bode well.
There are attractive Sancho alternatives for United
If Sancho doesn’t start realizing his potential soon, his time in the theater of dreams could be over quickly.
He still has a contract that runs until 2026, but according to the Manchester Evening News ten Hag will grow impatient. United could try to recoup some of the hefty fee in the summer with a sale before Sancho’s market value falls even further.
The Red Devils are already being linked with a number of players currently bagging Sancho, including Napoli high-flyer Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.
Former Italy international striker Christian Vieri recently said of the Georgian: “If he goes to Manchester United the days of George Best will come back. Kvaratskhelia is just like him.”
Ten Hag are also reportedly considering signing Mohamed Kudus, who could follow in the footsteps of Antony and Lisandro Martínez and join Old Trafford from Ajax in the summer.
Brighton’s Kaoru Mitoma is another interesting name to make United’s list. The Japan international has already shown he can perform well in the Premier League.
There are rumors about United’s interest in João Félix, who is currently on loan from Atlético to Chelsea.
Signing another attacking player for Sancho – regardless of the name – would be bad news.
Sancho still has his fate in his own hands and the opportunity to save his career at United. But time is pressing. Weghorst’s low and Garnacho’s injury are actually the perfect moment for him to do some self-promotion.
The upcoming games will be groundbreaking for Sancho. Working to the rule won’t be enough to earn a regular spot. He needs lightness, courage and goal danger.
But if the last year and a half have shown one thing, it’s that it’s easier said than done.